The Costs and Benefits of Early College High Schools
Early Colleges (ECs) represent an expanding college readiness reform that provides students an opportunity to earn up to 60 college credits in high school through dual-enrollment coursework. The explicit goal of the Early College High School Initiative (ECHSI), established in 2002 by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, along with the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Ford Foundation, and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, was to increase the opportunity for students who are disadvantaged to earn a postsecondary credential.
This study complements an earlier AIR study of ECs that examines the impacts of ECs in substantial detail. In addition to examining the impacts of ECs on students’ educational attainment, we conduct a social benefit-cost analysis, examining the comprehensive set of costs and benefits of ECs inclusive of both public and private costs and benefits. Policymakers ultimately want to know if an investment in ECs represents a sound, long-term advantage to both individual students and the public. By estimating the impact of ECs, translating that impact into monetary benefits, and then comparing the benefits with the costs of ECs, we provide valuable information to determine whether ECs represent a worthwhile educational investment.
Study results indicate that ECs increase students’ likelihood of attending and graduating from college with an associate or bachelor’s degree. The increased educational attainment attributed to EC enrollment results in average lifetime benefits of almost $58,000 per student. By comparison, the cost of ECs is approximately $955 more per student per year than traditional high school, or $3,800 per student for 4 years of high school; however, we observed substantial variation in the cost of ECs across sites (from a low of $2,279 less per student per year to a high of $4,616 more per student per year compared with the cost of traditional high schools). When comparing the benefits of ECs with the cost, the result is a net present value of approximately $54,000 per student and a benefit-to-cost ratio of 15.1. Even when using conservative estimates of the costs (upper bound) and benefits (lower bound) of ECs, we find that the benefits substantially outweigh the costs, with a benefit-to-cost ratio of 4.6.