Early College, Continued Success: Longer-Term Impact of Early College High Schools
Early College High School Programs (also known as Early College Programs, or ECs) offer driven high school students academic rigor and early exposure to higher education. The program is designed to increase opportunities for traditionally underrepresented students by allowing them to enroll in college classes and receive credit while still enrolled in high school.
In 2013, AIR and its partner, SRI International, published their initial findings on the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Early College High School Initiative. Their 2019 follow-up report, Early College, Continued Success: Longer-Term Impact of Early College High Schools, builds on the first report to assess the impacts of ECs over time. With the additional years of postsecondary outcome data at their disposal, they aimed to address the following questions:
- Did EC students have better postsecondary outcomes (i.e., college enrollment and degree attainment) over time than control students?
- Did the impacts of ECs over time vary by student background characteristics (i.e., gender, race/ethnicity, low-income status, and prior mathematics and English language arts [ELA] achievement)?
- Were the impacts of ECs mediated by students’ high school experiences (i.e., college credit accrual during high school, instructional rigor, college-going culture, and student supports)?
- College Enrollment: EC students were significantly more likely than control students to enroll in college each year between the fourth year of high school and six years after expected high school graduation. Within that timeframe, 84.2% of EC students had enrolled in college, compared with 77.0% of control students.
- Degree Completion: EC students were more likely than control students to complete a postsecondary degree each year between the fourth year of high school and six years after expected high school graduation. By the end of this timeframe, 45.4% of EC student and 33.5% of control students had completed a certificate, associate’s degree, or a bachelor’s degree.
- Student Background Characteristics: EC impacts on college enrollment and degree completion outcomes were similar for students with different family background characteristics, including gender, race/ethnicity, or eligibility for free- or reduced-price lunch.
- High School Credit Accrual: College credit accrual during high school was the strongest mediator for degree completion outcomes, particularly bachelor’s degree completion. Completion of college credits during high school explained approximately 87% of the EC impact on bachelor’s degree completion within six years after expected high school graduation.
These results corroborate the findings from the original impact study and generate strong evidence for the long-term impact of ECs. Although more research is needed to understand how ECs affect later-life outcomes, the accelerated degree attainment timeline for EC students, combined with the low cost of EC college credits, suggest that these students may accrue less educational debt in their lives. Moreover, as EC students are likely to enter the workforce sooner, they may also have higher lifetime earnings compared with their peers.