What is Early College High School?



When looking into what is early college high school (ECHS), you’ll find that it improves educational outcomes for at-risk high school students, students of color, and students who would otherwise drop out of high school. High school early college programs give students a head start on their career with an associate’s degree or professional certification, or allow them to transfer their credits to a four-year university to earn a degree in less time. Early college programs “catch” students who would otherwise be lost to society and the workforce while giving them the opportunity to graduate from high school with their diploma and college credit. 

Why is Early College a Good Idea?

Not every student will graduate from early colleges with degrees, but they will graduate with college credit and an education that gives them a stronger starting point from which to join the workforce. An ECHS school also offers low-income students a college education that they may not otherwise have access to.

Many high schools have college-level classes that provide a small amount of credit to high schoolers, but they won’t give a student much more than that. Early colleges in high school are a dual-education program that provides the necessary high school classes for a high school degree alongside the early college program. 

Students who participate in early college high schools are better prepared for earning further degrees, are less intimidated by college-level educators and the coursework, and are prepared to handle the workload that comes with a higher education. These students are far more likely to become productive members of society, earn more money than they thought possible, and maximize their own potential through a college education. 

What is the Goal of Early College High Schools?

The Early College High School Initiative started in 2002 with the goal of making a tuition-free college education available to students who were underrepresented in universities and colleges. Some of the participating foundations include The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, The Ford Foundation, The Dell Foundation, The Carnegie Corporation, and more. The Early College Initiative focuses on students from populations that include:

  • Students of color
  • English as a second language
  • First generation college students
  • Low-income students

The goal of early college programs is to give students a chance at academic success before they graduate high school with the reward of having two years of college credit and an early start on earning an undergraduate degree. Early college high schools are alternative to vocational or technical school, and they offer students the opportunity to get their education in careers that have higher earning potential and more educational pathways. 

Early college high schools have been around for almost 20 years. In this time, they have demonstrated success in terms of the percentages of students that go on to finish their degrees. In 2009, it was found that students earned an average of 23 college credits at the time of graduation, and 88% of students had gone on to college after graduating from high school. Studies found that the impact of early college high schools were the same for all students regardless of their population or background. 

What are the Benefits of Taking College Classes in High School?

The ECHS model is targeted at students from disadvantaged backgrounds who would otherwise not reach their full potential. An ECHS is academically rigorous, but also supportive of students. Traditional high schools do what they can to support underperforming students, but oftentimes don’t have the available resources. Teachers and administrators at an ECHS have the tools and time they need to give their students the opportunity to flourish and be prepared to tackle their academic and career path after graduation. 

Students take classes in high school early college programs that are related to real-world jobs such as STEM careers. They also have academic advisors to help them determine if the material they’re learning is right for them, discuss their potential career paths, and if continuing their college education after early college education is a good idea. 

Early college programs reward students with college credits instead of remedial classwork that has little in the way of reward. Underperforming students frequently turn their poor grades around and become achievers with the support from their teachers and academic advisors. It’s estimated that 30% of early college program students earn their Associate’s degree or other credential by the time they graduate from an ECHS. Many students go on to complete their undergraduate degree after they graduate from early high school college. 

A 2019 study showed that early college high schools cost about $3,800 more per student over four years, and resulted in an increased lifetime earnings of about $34,000 per student. Early college high schools improve student outcomes and position them for a better life in terms of education and earnings potential. 

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