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A Policymaker's Guide to Early College Designs: Expanding a Strategy for Achieving College Readiness for All

Nancy Hoffman and Joel Vargas

The best way to prepare young people to succeed in college is to provide them with substantial college experiences while still in high school. Dual enrollment, Advanced Placement, and other programs are a start. However, college courses in high school can no longer be the exclusive province of advanced students. Ideally, all students should be able to begin college-level work as soon as they are ready—and before they graduate high school.

To help spread this opportunity to all students, JFF has prepared A Policymaker’s Guide to Early College Designs to help policymakers make informed decisions as they plan for and implement early college designs. It outlines what it would take to systematize and scale up early college course taking, extending the benefits to all high school students, secondary schools, and colleges across the country.

Early college designs adapt dual enrollment as a school-wide strategy; unlike traditional dual enrollment programs, their primary focus is the underprepared student, rather than the high achiever. The goal is to support low-income high school students who, without significant assistance, may lack the skills and knowledge to enter and persist through college. After years of extra academic support, early college students start taking postsecondary courses in high school, resulting in dual credit—all tuition free.

A free head start on college is huge motivation for young people to complete a degree. Saving time and money are strong incentives for young adults struggling to pay bills and eager to start jobs. The opportunity to receive crucial supports from staff who understand students’ academic and personal challenges makes success possible.

Early college designs can eventually be the norm in every secondary school in the country, ensuring that all high school students—and especially youth currently underrepresented in higher education—can prepare for, do, and benefit from college-level work.