Many high school students are “college ready” by the end of 11th grade. So why not let them finish high school and start college full time? A new report explores options for putting that idea into practice.
The study, issued Wednesday, calculates that 850,000 students are ready for college work. That’s the number of students who meet all four “college-ready” benchmark scores on the ACT. Of those students, nearly 1 in 3 come from low-income families.
The two organizations that put out the report—Education Reform Now and the Alliance for Excellent Education—argue that enabling these students to skip a fourth year of high school would provide important opportunities that would be unnecessarily delayed if school systems stick only to the traditional seat-time model of high school completion.
High school students already have options to take courses for college credit, such as dual-enrollment or Advanced Placement. But those approaches represent part-time college enrollment. Some early-college high school programs compress high school requirements into the first two years, and allow students to take college courses full-time for the second two years.
The new report argues for new models of allowing high school students to enroll in full-time college study. Its co-authors argue for two “fast track” models that could let students finish college more quickly and economically.
The first would let students enroll in full-time college-level work while they’re still in high school, so they could graduate with at least a year’s worth of college credit, free of charge. They’d study through AP, International Baccalaureate or dual-enrollment programs.
A key quality of this model: all in-state colleges and universities would have to accept those credits for transfer. (This has proved a tricky piece of the puzzle with dual-enrollment courses; many students find their promised credits won’t transfer.)
The second “fast-track” pathway would let students graduate early, and get a scholarship that reduces the cost of attending college at in-state public institutions.
“If we can expand early access to college-level work and improve credit transfer, we can save students—particularly those from low-income backgrounds—time, money, and frustration,” report co-author Michael Dannenberg says in a statement released with the report. “The three key words on which the college affordability debate should be focused are ‘time to degree’.”
The study argues that states themselves can save money by allowing these pathways. The co-authors calculate that they could find up to $7.2 billion in savings in their higher education budgets for students who finish college on time, instead ot taking five or six years.
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A version of this news article first appeared in the High School & Beyond blog.