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Share Your Story to Celebrate #EarlyCollegeWeek 2021!

After nearly two decades of growth, the results are clear: early college programs offer a strong return on investment for students, schools, and societies. Tell us about your experience as we plan for the next 10 years.

May 4, 2021

At a Glance

After nearly two decades of growth, the results are clear: early college programs offer a strong return on investment for students, schools, and societies. Tell us about your experience as we plan for the next 10 years.

Nancy Hoffman Senior Advisor
Joel Vargas Vice President

Nearly 20 years ago, the JFF team knew of just a few early college high school programs. As we head into Early College Week for 2021, there are hundreds—and early college programs are only growing and gaining new visibility as evidence shows their impact on equity. Early colleges are a powerful strategy for increasing college readiness, access, and degree completion of students from low-income backgrounds, particularly students of color. Kristina Zeiser of the American Institutes for Research, who has been studying these programs since 2009, says they’re “an effective way to increase rates of college-going and college completion,” and the “return on the investment in these programs is positive for both the student and society at large.”

JFF was the intermediary that led the build-out of the national Early College High School Initiative, starting in 2002, and we’re often asked just how many early colleges are out there now. The truth is, with so many new models and programs emerging all the time, we don’t know—but we’d love to find out, with your help.

This Early College Week, May 3-7, please share your success stories, photos, videos, or your program’s website on social media using the hashtag #EarlyCollegeWeek.

Just how many early colleges are out there now? The truth is, with so many new models and programs emerging all the time, we don't know—but we’d love to find out, with your help.

Yesterday and Today

In 2001, JFF was aware of two early college models that served diverse student populations in an urban setting—Middle College High School at LaGuardia Community College and Bard High School Early College, both in New York City. Founded in 1974 as one of New York City’s first alternative high schools, Middle College was designed to support students who were not on track to graduate and would benefit from the increased independence, support, and flexibility provided by a college campus learning environment. Bard Early College was founded in 2001 to serve students who were considered ready for extensive college work at age 16. JFF and our partners in the Early College High School Initiative visited these two schools as part of the initiative’s first convening in 2002. Over the next decade, 13 partner organizations launched 280 early college programs.

Much has changed since then, and today’s early colleges take many forms: programs within high schools, standalone schools, online and in-person hybrids, online early colleges, and other designs and structures. This Early College Week, we’re taking a moment to recognize these exciting shifts and to put forward a revised set of Early College Core Principles. The new principles, below, are written in the same spirit as the original set from 2002, but with a greater emphasis on career preparation for young people. The country has experienced two major economic downturns since the first early colleges came into being, and these have shaped the view that a postsecondary credential is not the endpoint; it is the launching pad that enables graduates to begin good careers.

Core Principles of Early College

We want to know whether these describe your program or school or partnership—if they do, please raise your hand!

1. Courses of Study Leading to Degrees/ Certificates with Labor Market Value

Courses of study are designed so that all students have the opportunity to earn at least 12 college credits, and up to an associate’s degree, within a 4-5 year graduation timeline.

2. Robust Postsecondary Partnerships

K-12 and higher education representatives collaborate in ECHS design, decision-making, and continuous improvement, with a clear understanding of each party’s scope of responsibility and commitment to resource sharing.

3. Industry Partnerships, Advisory Boards, and Work-Based Learning

Industry partners play an active role in informing curricula and commit to offering a continuum of work-based learning to prepare graduates to meet current and future labor market needs.

4. Access and Equity

The school’s design, recruitment plan, and admission process reflect a commitment to removing access barriers, closing equity gaps, and providing opportunities for all students to achieve college readiness and success.

5. Comprehensive System of Support

The school and its higher education partner have a comprehensive plan for building the skills for college success and differentiating support to meet all students’ academic and social-emotional needs.

What’s Next: Early College 3.0

With nearly two decades of early college growth behind us, it’s time to ask: what’s next? Two substantial new initiatives—one in Massachusetts and a second in the San Joaquin Valley of California—offer some insights into what early college 3.0 could look like.

Massachusetts launched its early college high school initiative in 2017 to provide students, especially first-generation college-goers, a pathway to college and career success. The movement has rapidly expanded to 38 high schools in partnership with 20 colleges and universities in the past four years, providing increased postsecondary access for young people across the state. During the 2020-21 school year, the early college initiative has provided 24,000 college credits for nearly 3,500 students in the Commonwealth, saving students and families about $5.2 million in tuition expenses. At the outset, the Massachusetts Early College Initiative set a goal of enrolling at least 16,000 students. Strong initial results have encouraged state leaders to advocate for a more ambitious goal of 45,000 students, which will markedly reduce gaps in degree completion and prepare a more diverse talent pipeline for the many opportunities in the state.

In San Joaquin County of California, three new early colleges are emerging to ensure that more young people have pathways to local careers with a high demand for talent. The new early college programs will prepare students for careers in teaching (through San Joaquin County Office of Education in partnership with San Joaquin Delta College), agriculture and environmental science (through Stanislaus County Office of Education and Modesto Junior College), and health care (through Aspire Vanguard College Preparatory Academy and Modesto Junior College). These programs are currently in the planning phase and are funded by San Joaquin A+, a group of educators, business leaders, active citizens, and philanthropists that collaborate to prepare students to be successful and responsible citizens. JFF is supporting the design and growth of these exciting new partnerships.

Tell Us About Your Early College!

We are so grateful to see the early college movement flourishing around the country. We look forward to learning about your early college programs and the difference you are making for young people. Share and follow along with us using the #EarlyCollegeWeek hashtag.

A Rich History of Impact

2002 – JFF began facilitating a brand-new early college high school philanthropic initiative, targeting students who were considered “at risk of. . .not matriculating to college, and not completing a degree.” These included students from low-income backgrounds, students of color, first-generation college-goers, and English language learners. Thirteen partner organizations launched 280 early colleges over the better part of the decade. Their work and JFF’s was funded by a host of foundations including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Kellogg Foundation, the Ford Foundation, and the Carnegie Corporation.

2009 – JFF held the first Early College Week. The number of students celebrated during this week continues to grow every year.

2010 – Largest Innovative School Network in the U.S. Celebrates Success of its 46,000 Students Nationwide.

2011 – Early College High School Week Salutes 50,000 Students.

2015 – Early College High Schools Across the Country Celebrate Student Success.

2017What Works Clearinghouse validates early college studies as “gold standard,” verifying the impact observed by researchers.

2019AIR shows the benefits to students and systems far outweigh the costs of early college, proving the efficacy of investments in early college.

2021 – JFF launches the 11th annual Early College Week and continues to be at the forefront of the national early college movement.

JFF would like to recognize the contributions of the following organizations in launching the early college movement in 2002:

Center for Native Education • City University of New York • Educate Texas • Foundation for California Community Colleges • Gateway to College National Network • KnowledgeWorks Foundation • Middle College National Consortium • National Council of La Raza • North Carolina New Schools • SECME, Inc. • University System of Georgia Board of Regents • Utah Partnership Foundation • Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation