Early College Designs

Early College Designs

Reinventing High Schools for Postsecondary Success

Combining high school and college in a rigorous, supportive environment that enables struggling students to graduate with college credit and the tools for postsecondary success.

Joel Vargas
Vice President, School and Learning Designs
617.728.4446 x117

Early College Designs enable more students, particularly low-income and minority students, to experience rigorous high school and college coursework that leads to improved outcomes. Early college students are outperforming their peers nationwide:

  • 90% graduate high school vs. 78% of students nationally
  • 94% earn free college credit while in high school
  • 30% earn an Associate's degree or other postsecondary credential while in high school

Every young person needs a postsecondary credential to thrive in today’s world. Yet, as a nation, we fail to provide too many young people with the education they need to succeed. Millions of young people graduate from high school unprepared for college and careers in today’s global economy.

  • 22% of high school students are not graduating from high school.
  • One-third of students who enter postsecondary education require remedial education before they can earn college credit.
  • Less than half of all college students graduate within six years.

These problems are particularly acute for low-income youth, first-generation college goers, English language learners, students of color, and other underserved populations.

To succeed in college and careers, young adults need more than academic proficiency. They also must acquire college-ready skills, such as self-regulating their learning and navigating campus resources, from faculty office hours to career counseling. A lack of preparation limits many young people, especially those with few supports at school or at home, from achieving the prerequisites necessary to enter credit-bearing coursework and attain a postsecondary credential that leads to a family-supporting career. These circumstances harm not only individuals, but also our economy and democracy, both of which depend on a well-educated nation. They also represent an inefficient use of personal and public investments in education.

Since 2002, Jobs for the Future and our partners have helped start or redesign nearly 250 early college schools that currently serve more than 75,000 students nationwide.

Early college high schools replace remediation with acceleration, engaging instruction, and individualized supports to prepare all students—particularly those traditionally underserved—for college and careers.

Early College Designs are based on the bold idea that academic rigor, combined with the opportunity to save time and money toward a postsecondary credential, are powerful motivators for students to work hard and meet intellectual challenges.

We are expanding the early college network with a range of Early College Designs:
  • Full-service early college high schools
  • Early college STEM schools
  • Early college pathways in comprehensive high schools
  • Pathways to Prosperity models that integrate career pathways with an Associate’s degree
  • Back on Track models that reengage off-track and out-of-school youth

For information on how to implement Early College Designs in your school, see Early College Design Services.

Student Outcomes

  • 80,000+ students served each year at 280 early college schools.
  • 90% of early college students graduate, compared with 78% nationally.
  • 94% of graduates earn some college credit while in high school.
  • 71% of early college graduates immediately enroll in college, compared with 68% nationally, and 54% of low-income students nationally.
  • 30% of early college graduates earn an Associate’s degree or postsecondary certificate along with their high school diploma.
  • Early college graduates earn an average 38 college credits for free.

Student Demographics
  • 73% of early college students are of color.
  • 61% are from low-income families.
  • 56% will be the first in their immediate families to attend college.

Recent Accomplishments

  • 50,000 more students will benefit from Early College Designs expansion to Denver and South Texas, thanks to a $15 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s Investing in Innovation (i3) program.
  • Students studying

    Where to Now? Thinking Aloud About the Next Generation of Policy Issues for Dual Enrollment

    For well over a decade, state and federal policymakers have promoted dual enrollment through strategies such as creating or expanding funding streams for dual enrollment and early college schools, as well as mandating that local education agencies make available a defined amount of dual enrollment (and/or AP and IB) options. But efforts to expand dual enrollment much more will only get so far without attention to some key issues in the years ahead. None lend themselves to clear, one-shot policy solutions, yet they nonetheless loom large and relate to larger challenges in our K-12 and postsecondary systems. Read our Q & A about dual enrollment policy issues.

    Learn More
  • Addressing the 61st Hour Challenge report

    Addressing the 61st Hour Challenge: Collaborating in El Paso to Create Seamless Pathways from High School to College

    Jobs for the Future and the Greater Texas Foundation's new report documents an early college program in El Paso, Texas, that has enabled over a thousand students to earn a bachelor’s degree. In efforts to resolve a credit transfer issue referred to as the 61st Hour challenge, the high school and higher education institutions in the El Paso region have come together to develop an almost truly seamless system from 9th grade through the bachelor’s degree.

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  • Joel on PBS News Hour

    PBS NewsHour: Does Early College for High School Students Pave a Path to Graduation?

    Watch Dr. Daniel King, JFF board member & Superintendent of Pharr-San Juan-Alamo Independent School District, and Joel Vargas, Vice President of School and Learning Designs at JFF, discuss early college on PBS NewsHour.

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