Five years ago, the Early College Expansion Partnership (ECEP) set out with an ambitious goal: take a bold school improvement model that had increased success of low-income youth in small high schools and scale it to 30,000 more students across three districts serving predominantly low-income students. Early college high school students earn significant college credits, a postsecondary certificate, or even an associate’s degree, for free, while still in high school. Here, we see that students are moving successfully toward not only sustaining but also expanding and improving a major early college initiative.
The ECEP partners realized that achieving the full potential of the important work underway requires more than simply identifying new sources of external funds to extend the original grant-funded activities. The partners started to think about sustainability in a deeper way, exploring questions such as: What does it take to institutionalize a large-scale reform? What essential practices, staff positions, and governance structures must be in place to maintain momentum? How can schools and districts develop a culture of continuous improvement that supports the expansion of early college to all students for years to come? As the districts have learned, in order for an initiative to gain permanence, it must become institutionalized embedded in the identity of the system and regarded as part of the everyday work of the schools and district.