College & Workforce Readiness

New Reports Highlight Promise of Early College High Schools

By Caralee J. Adams — April 01, 2011 3 min read
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Four new research reports are reflecting the growing success of early college high schools, an approach that has spread to 28 states with 230 schools and 50,000 students.

Early college high schools target students who have traditionally been underrepresented in higher education, particularly minorities (70 percent of early college high school students are students of color) and those in low-income families (59 percent qualify for free and reduced-price lunch).

The model includes a rigorous curriculum, along with supports, that allows students to simultaneously earn a high school diploma and one to two years of transferable college credit, tuition free. Most high schools partner with two-year colleges (75 percent); others partner with four-year institutions, and some partner with both.

I wrote about the success of this model in a post last year (92 percent of students graduate from early college high schools, compared to the national rate of 69 percent), but now there is more evidence.

Jobs for the Future, a national nonprofit organization based in Boston that promotes education and workforce strategies and has managed the Early College High School Initiative since 2002, released four new reports last week highlighting the promise of early college high schools.

Some of the highlights:

Nearly 73 percent of early college high school graduates enroll in college right after graduation, compared to 69 percent of all high school graduates. In 2009, 24 percent of graduates who were enrolled in an early college high school for four years earned an associate’s degree or two years of college credit, and 44 percent earned at least one year of college credit. Those numbers come from the report Unconventional Wisdom: A Profile of the Graduates of Early College High School, which looked at nearly 6,200 early college high school graduates from schools and programs with at least one four-year cohort between 2007 and 2009.

Another study, Early College Graduates: Adapting, Thriving, and Leading in College asked students at two start-up early college high schools—Wallis Annenberg High School in Los Angeles and the Dayton Early College Academy in Dayton, Ohio—about their experience from 9th grade through their second year of college.

Researchers found that the Annenberg and Dayton students were highly skilled at adapting to college challenges. They had learned coping strategies in high school that encouraged them to reach out for help from teachers, use campus resources such as writing centers, and maintain just enough work hours not to overwhelm their studies.

These students were also quick to assume leadership roles on and off campus and the early college experience appeared to inform students’ thinking about their focus in college, the research team concluded.

The two other studies looked at best practices in North Carolina and Texas.

Accellerating College Readiness Lessons from North Carolina examined some of that state’s 71 early college high schools. It emphasized the success of five design principles that guided the development of the state’s model high schools: Each staff member embraces responsibility for preparing every student for college success; teachers use a consistent set of instructional strategies proven to accelerate learning; students receive intensive and individualized supports to overcome academic barriers; students are coached to take full ownership of their learning over time; and staff collaboration extends beyond institutional borders.

The fourth report looked at the early college high schools in Texas, which has 44 early college schools. Of the 900 students who graduated from early college schools in Texas in 2010, about 95 percent had already earned at least some college credits. More than one-third earned an associate’s degree. At Mission Early College High School, 87 percent of graduates and 86 percent of Collegiate High School graduates enrolled immediately in college, compared to 57 percent of high school graduates statewide enrolled in college. Graduates earned $5.6 million in college scholarships (about $6,220 per graduate).

A version of this news article first appeared in the College Bound blog.