This study reports the impact of the early college high school model (early college) on (a) college credits students earn while in high school, (b) high school graduation, (c) postsecondary enrollment, and (d) postsecondary attainment outcomes. The 12 early colleges in the study were located in rural and urban settings across North Carolina. These early colleges were, on average, smaller than the traditional schools in their respective counties. These early colleges served students who were similar to the overall student populations in their districts, with respect to characteristics such as free- and reduced-price lunch eligibility and race/ethnicity. Early colleges were much more likely to have teachers who were in their first three years of teaching, but experienced teacher turnover rates were similar to traditional schools. The early colleges in the study were located on two- and four year college campuses. For an early college to be eligible to participate it had to have more applicants than available slots, and staff had to be willing to randomize students to early college or the comparison condition using a lottery system.
Among students in the study, 60.2% were White, 26.7% were Black, and 8.3% were Hispanic. Forty-one percent of the student sample was male. Just over half (50.7%) of the sample was free/reduced-price lunch eligible and 40.8% of the sample were first-generation college students. About 2.9 percent of the sample was disabled/impaired.
Beginning in the ninth grade, students in the intervention condition attended early college schools located on college campuses and took courses for college credits. Early colleges provided an academically rigorous course of study with the goal of ensuring that all students graduated with a high school diploma and two years of transferable college credit, or an associate degree. In order for students to accomplish this goal, the early college delivered a curriculum plan offering the high school and college courses that students need in order to complete both degrees, including dual-credit courses. Some early colleges were structured as four-year schools, but most allowed students five years to complete the curriculum.
Among the students randomly assigned to the intervention group, 13% did not enroll in early college high schools (i.e., these were no-shows).
Students assigned to the comparison group generally enrolled in the traditional high school in the district. These traditional high schools had, on average, much larger enrollment than early colleges.
Among the students randomly assigned to the comparison condition, 2% enrolled in early college high schools (i.e., these were crossovers).
Support for implementation
Early college teachers received guidance on instructional strategies designed to prepare students for college. Students received explicit instruction and assistance in navigating the college admissions and financial aid processes.