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IES Grant

Title: Evaluating the Longer Term Impact of Early College High Schools on Workforce and Life Outcomes
Center: NCER Year: 2021
Principal Investigator: Zeiser, Kristina Awardee: American Institutes for Research (AIR)
Program: Postsecondary and Adult Education      [Program Details]
Award Period: 3 years (07/01/2021 – 06/30/2024) Award Amount: $1,499,799
Type: Follow-Up Award Number: R305A210017

Co-Principal Investigator: Song, Mengli

Purpose: The proposed study will address a gap in the literature on whether attending an Early College High School (EC) results in significant gains in longer-term outcomes including college degree completion, workforce outcomes, college debt, and other life outcomes compared with not attending an EC. ECs are a type of dual enrollment program in which (1) it is expected that all students take college-level courses and (2) the prescribed curriculum facilitates the accrual of 2 years of college credits and possible completion of an associate degree by high school graduation. Recent impact studies reviewed by the What Works Clearinghouse demonstrate positive EC impacts on bachelor's degree completion as of 6 years from expected high school graduation (Edmunds, Unlu, Furey, Glennie, & Arshavsky, 2020; Song & Zeiser, 2019). However, researchers have not followed study participants for a sufficient amount of time to examine impacts on long-term college and workforce outcomes. The proposed study is a follow-up to two previous American Institutes for Research (AIR) studies. The study will collect information for original study participants between 8 and 14 years after their expected high school graduation. It will provide causal evidence on the longer-term impacts of ECs on college degree completion, workforce outcomes, college debt, and other life outcomes.

Project Activities: AIR will collect degree completion data from the National Student Clearinghouse for the full sample of study participants. AIR's research partner, NORC at the University of Chicago, will administer a survey during the second year of the study to measure workforce and life outcomes for students who attended the ECs in the study.

Products: Researchers will uncover longer-term EC impacts on college degree completion, workforce outcomes, and other life outcomes related to financial well-being. The researchers will disseminate findings to a broad audience through user-friendly infographics and social media postings. They will also produce a publicly available final report and peer-reviewed journal articles, as well as presentations for academic and practitioner conferences.

Structured Abstract

Setting: The study includes 10 ECs located in five states (North Carolina, Ohio, South Carolina, Texas, and Utah), including five in urban areas, two in midsized cities, and three in small towns. All ECs were small schools, enrolling fewer than 150 students per grade, and total enrollment ranged from approximately 100 to 600 students.

Sample: The sample includes 10 of the 154 ECs that met the following criteria during at least one of three school years (2005–06, 2006–07, or 2007–08) as of fall 2007: (a) enrolled students in all Grades 9–12; (b) offered a high school diploma; (c) admitted Grade 9 students using a lottery; and (d) maintained lottery records. The study includes approximately 2,450 students (1,050 treatment students and 1,400 control students) who applied to Grade 9 EC admissions lotteries in one of the 10 ECs between 2005–06 and 2007–08. Approximately half of the sample was female, half was non-white, and half was eligible for free or reduced-price lunch.

Intervention: The proposed study is an evaluation of the EC model implemented under routine conditions in five U.S. states. The EC model emphasizes postsecondary access for all students, exposure to college-level courses in high school, and personalized support for students. The theory behind ECs is that a high school environment that actively promotes college going and provides support in combination with rigorous coursework will prepare students to complete a postsecondary degree, and this will translate into longer-term impacts on workforce and financial outcomes.

Research Design and Methods: Due to the use of lotteries for EC admission, the study will take advantage of a natural experiment and use an intent-to-treat (ITT) study design to examine longer-term impacts on college degree completion, workforce outcomes, and other life and financial outcomes (e.g., college debt accumulation, homeownership). This follow-up study is a randomized controlled trial that utilizes retrospective Grade 9 admissions lotteries that were conducted between 2005–06 and 2007–08.

Control Condition: Control groupstudents applied to an admissions lottery at one of the 10 ECs but were not offered admission. The control group attended a non-EC high school, most of which were traditional comprehensive high schools in the same or surrounding districts.

Key Measures: Key outcomes for this study fall within three domains. College outcomes include bachelor's degree completion within 8 and 10 years after expected high school graduation and advanced degree completion (e.g., master's degree, professional degree) within 10 years after expected high school graduation. Workforce outcomes include full-time employment and salary between 12 and 14 years after expected high school graduation. Other life outcomes include college debt accumulation, homeownership, and access to health insurance between 12 and 14 years after expected high school graduation.

Data Analytic Strategy: To estimate ITT effects for binary outcomes, researchers will use a two-level hierarchical generalized linear model with study participants nested within admissions lotteries. The treatment is whether study participants were randomly offered admission to the EC, regardless of enrollment. Statistical models will control for baseline participant characteristics (including Grade 8 achievement test scores) to improve precision. The study will also examine whether EC impacts differ for subgroups of study participants using interaction terms between treatment status and subgroup indicators. Also, researchers will compare the characteristics of the 154 ECs in operation in 2007, the final year lotteries in our study were conducted, to the characteristics of the ECs in our study to assess the generalizability of impact findings. They will also compare the characteristics of these 154 ECs to the ECs in operation by fall 2022 to examine the evolution of the EC landscape since the original study.

Cost Analysis: The study team estimated the costs of operating ECs, relative to traditional high schools, during the initial follow-up efficacy study. For the proposed study, the team will perform an updated cost-benefit analysis, accounting for estimated EC impacts on workforce and other life and financial outcomes (e.g., college debt accumulation, homeownership, access to health care).

Related IES Projects: Between 2016 and 2019, the study team carried out the AIR Early College Follow-Up Efficacy Study (R305A160140 ).