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Building a Foundation for Early College in Grades 9 and 10

July 30, 2021

At a Glance

Encouraged by strong initial results from early college high school programs, Massachusetts aims to further expand them throughout the state. This report outlines strategies for reaching more students: expanding access to students in grades 9 and 10, retaining those who do enroll, and ensuring that younger students are ready to succeed in an early college career pathway.

Nancy Hoffman Senior Advisor
Joanna Mawhinney
Anna O'Connor Senior Director

About This Report

Most early college high schools start by providing college coursework to high school juniors and seniors to help them get a head start on college. Now, as early college partnerships are seeing success with older students, they are widening the pool of potential participants in such programs by starting in grades 9 and 10.

To succeed in early college, students need to be ready for an enhanced and more academically demanding version of high school. They will earn college credits in a career pathway to accelerate their attainment of a college degree that will lead to a good job.

How do schools encourage 14-year-olds who may not have had strong prior academic experiences or who may not see themselves as college goers to try a high school program that is even harder than the traditional 9th or 10th grades? And once students signal their interest, how do schools provide new early college students with engaging learning activities and the supports that can help them thrive?

Drawing from our two decades of experience with early college implementations, including current work facilitating the Richard and Susan Smith Family Foundation early college high school community of practice in Massachusetts, JFF developed four strategies for introducing early college in the first years of high school:

  1. Start early college preparation in middle school or before grade 9, if possible.
  2. Codesign first-year early college courses with college partners.
  3. Develop equitable assessments of readiness for college coursework.
  4. Assemble a team of high school and college instructors and administrators to codesign and lead the early college program.

Education Powerhouse Series

This report is part of a series that highlights promising practices from and the early impact of the Massachusetts Early College Initiative.


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