Across a set of research grant programs, IES generates knowledge of how to increase students’ access to, progress through, and completion of postsecondary credentials and degrees. Funded projects develop and test a range of interventions from state-level policies to classroom practices, with an emphasis on strategies that promote college attainment for students historically underrepresented in postsecondary education. This new blog series called Effective Postsecondary Interventions highlights interventions with evidence of effectiveness generated through IES-funded research.
The Early College High School Model
The Early College High School (ECHS) model addresses barriers to college attainment commonly experienced by students historically underrepresented in higher education. Students from low-income families and minoritized racial and ethnic groups often attend high schools that lack rigorous pre-college courses, strong support for college enrollment, and established connections to colleges and universities. For those students, cost is an additional barrier to enrollment and persistence in college. The ECHS model addresses these barriers by combining secondary and postsecondary instruction within the same school, prioritizing college-preparatory high school courses, offering opportunities to enroll in college courses while in high school, and providing comprehensive supports for academic and social-emotional development—all at little or no cost to the students. Although concurrent enrollment in high school and college courses (dual enrollment) is a core component of the model, the ECHS model is more expansive than dual enrollment because it includes a broader set of intervention components and has a clear equity objective.
All early colleges reflect these four design principles:
- Enrollment of students historically underrepresented in higher education
- Partnerships including a local education agency, a higher education institution, and the surrounding community
- An integrated program of secondary and postsecondary education with the goal of all students earning 1 to 2 years of college credit prior to high school graduation
- A comprehensive support system for students to develop academic skills as well as social and behavioral skills.
Attending Early Colleges Increases Postsecondary Attainment
Four IES-funded projects have evaluated impacts of the ECHS model. Prior studies within these projects found that significantly larger percentages of early college students completed a college preparatory course of study during high school and enrolled in postsecondary education within six years of entering high school. The two most recent projects assess postsecondary attainment:
In addition, early college students earned associate degrees at rates that exceeded their counterparts in traditional high schools by 22% and 18%, respectively, while earning bachelor’s degrees at equal or higher rates. These impacts are substantial, and especially noteworthy because both evaluations studied early colleges across a range of settings. Moreover, the impacts are similar for different student subgroups, regardless of gender, race/ethnicity, or family income.
Why have early colleges been so effective?
Early colleges set high expectations, provide high-quality interactions between staff and students, and encourage college access and success for all students. Several studies confirm that early colleges substantially improve high school experiences and outcomes. Students in North Carolina early colleges reported higher expectations, more rigorous and relevant instruction, stronger academic and social supports, and better relationships with teachers than their counterparts in other high schools. Early college students in AIR’s five-state sample reported significantly higher levels of college-going culture and instructor support than their counterparts in traditional high schools. The combination of high expectations and supportive relationships promotes better outcomes for early college students beginning in ninth grade (compared with students in other high schools). For instance, early college students are more likely to persist in college-preparatory math courses, attain a significant number of college credits during high school, and graduate from high school. Importantly, these positive results hold for students from all racial and ethnic groups, including students who enter high school at low levels of math proficiency.
For more information about the studies, the SERVE Center at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro has posted a brief of impact findings from their evaluation of North Carolina early colleges. The American Institutes of Research has posted a brief of impact findings from their five-state evaluation of early colleges.
Written by James Benson (James.Benson@ed.gov), a Program Officer for Postsecondary Education within NCER’s Policy and Systems Division.