Students in Early College High School Initiative “Significantly More Likely” to Go to College and Earn a Degree, Study Finds

Washington, D.C. – Students who attend an Early College high school are significantly more likely to enroll in college and earn a degree than their peers, according to the results of a rigorous, multi-year study of ten schools that were part of the Early College High School Initiative (ECHSI) created by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

“The Early Colleges in this study yielded significant and meaningful improvements in almost every student outcome examined,” said Andrea Berger of the American Institutes for Research (AIR), who led the project.

In 2002, the Foundation launched ECHSI to increase opportunities for underserved students to earn a postsecondary credential. Since then, more than 240 Early Colleges have opened in the United States. Early Colleges partner with colleges and universities to offer students the chance to earn an associate’s degree or up to two years of college credits toward a bachelor’s degree during high school at little or no cost.

The study compared outcomes for students admitted through a lottery to an Early College with outcomes for students who were not admitted. Key findings of Early College, Early Success: Early College Initiative Impact Study,” include:

  • Early College students were significantly more like to graduate from high school than comparison students. Eighty-six percent of Early College students graduated from high school and 81 percent of comparison students graduated from high school.
  • Early College students were significantly more likely to enroll in college than comparison students. During the study period, 80 percent of Early College students enrolled, compared with 71 percent for comparison students. Early College students were also more likely than comparison students to enroll in both two-year and in four-year colleges or universities.
  • Early College students were significantly more likely to earn a college degree than comparison students. Up to one year past high school, 21 percent of Early College students earned a college degree (typically, an associate’s degree), compared to only 1 percent for comparison students. Because they start earning college credits in high school, Early College students should complete college degrees earlier than comparison students.
  • The impact of Early College on high school graduation and college enrollment did not differ significantly based on gender, race/ethnicity, family income, first-generation college-going status, or pre-high school achievement. The impact on earning a college degree was stronger for female, minority and lower income students than for their counterparts.

“Although the findings from this study are applicable only to the 10 Early Colleges included in the study sample, they provide strong evidence for the positive impacts of Early Colleges on students … In addition, Early Colleges appeared to mitigate the traditional educational attainment gaps between advantaged and disadvantaged students.” the authors wrote in the report.

The ten Early Colleges examined used admissions lotteries for the academic years 2005-06, 2006-07 and 2007-08. The overall study sample included 2,458 students. The primary student outcomes for the study were high school graduation, college enrollment, and college degree attainment. Data came from administrative records from schools, districts, and states; the National Student Clearinghouse (NSC); and a survey administered to students. Due to privacy concerns, the Early Colleges are not identified in the study.

To read the full report, visit

About AIR
Established in 1946, with headquarters in Washington, D.C., the American Institutes for Research (AIR) is a nonpartisan, not-for-profit organization that conducts behavioral and social science research and delivers technical assistance both domestically and internationally in the areas of health, education and workforce productivity. For more information, visit


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