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 Gets Results

From 2004-2014, the Early College High School Initiative Student Information System, created and maintained by Jobs for the Future, collected, warehoused, and provided reporting and analytics to demonstrate the efficacy of early college high schools in improving outcomes for underserved student groups. The data has been used in many ways over the years and is summarized in this overview, Early College Gets Results. so help early college schools document the impact of these features and continuously improve practice at the classroom, school, and district levels, JFF created and maintained the to track a wide variety of data on student outcomes. Please read more about the outcomes of these data in our report on early college expansion.

Early College, Early Success

A random-assignment study from American Institutes for Research concludes that students who attend early college high school are significantly more likely than their peers to graduate, enroll in college, and earn a degree. The multiyear study released in 2013, with an update in 2014, tracked the outcomes of students at 10 schools in the Early College High School Initiative, which we have managed since the network’s launch in 2002.

Among the major findings:

  • Early college students had significantly higher English language arts assessment scores in high school than comparison students. 
  • Early colleges had significant impacts on underrepresented students.
  • Early colleges were particularly effective at helping female students, students of color, and lower-income students earn college degrees.
  • 86% of early college high school students graduated from high school compared to 81% of comparison students in surrounding districts.
  • 81% of early college high school students enrolled in college, compared to 72% of comparison students
  • One year past high school, 21% of early college students had earned a college degree, compared to 1% of comparison students. Two years past high school, 25% had earned a degree, compared to 5% of comparison students.

The study compared early college students with students who wanted to attend early college but lost out in an admissions lottery. The randomized design allowed researchers to conclude that early college helps students succeed—and do better than similar kids at traditional high schools who were just as motivated but didn’t get the chance to enroll.

AIR and SRI published a six-year impact report in 2009 (summary available here) as well.

A Better Ninth Grade

The SERVE Center in North Carolina has been studying the early college model implemented in many North Carolina high schools for several years. This keystone report had several findings:

  • ƒMore early college high school students were on-track for college than control group students.
  • ƒThe early college high school model appears to be closing the performance gap among student sub-groups.
  • ƒStudents in early college high schools were less likely to be suspended and were absent fewer days.
  • ƒEarly college students reported higher levels of academic engagement.
  • ƒEarly college students reported more positive school experiences than students in the control group, including better relationships, higher expectations, more rigorous and relevant instruction, and more academic and social support.

Other studies that offer strong evidence about the efficacy of taking college courses while in high school include: