For some students, spending the high school years just waiting to get to college doesn’t happen – and for good reason. These students are spending their high school years doing the work of college. They are enrolled in an Early College High School.
Early College High School is not the same thing as Dual Enrollment. In a dual enrollment program, students attend a traditional high school and take one or two college classes at the same time. In an Early College High School, some strictly high school classes are replaced by college classes – for all students in the school. So Early College High School is an institutional, rather than an individual, program. The program provides an opportunity for students to receive a high school diploma at the same time that they receive college credit, or even an associates degree – tuition free.
There are currently over 400 Early College High Schools in 32 states, enrolling more than 100,000 students. The program began in 2002 with a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Carnegie Corporation, the Ford Foundation and others. It targets primarily students who are traditionally underserved – particularly low income, minority, first generation and English Language Learners. By blending college and high school, the goals of the program include creating a path to and through college for these students, to create a strong college going culture, and to graduate students prepared for college success.
Early College High Schools, often located on or near college campuses, attempt to draw on the college environment to help students build an identity as college goers. Some classes may be held on the college campus with traditional college students. The schools work to build close relationships between students and staff, and high school teachers and college professors work closely to collaborate and share responsibilities for developing academic programs.
Early College High Schools attempt to create a “college for all” culture by providing a rigorous college preparation curriculum to all students, not just gifted students. Admission is often competitive and students enter the program as freshmen. Some programs include middle school feeder programs as well. All students in the school are exposed to college coursework as the programs replace remediation with acceleration – encouraging all students in college level work by providing significant support. It is important for parents considering an Early College High School experience for their student to investigate and understand the program well, as the decision to enter is made early.
Early College High Schools have five core principles in common.
- They are committed to serving underrepresented youth.
- They are created and sustained by a local educational agency, a higher education institution, and the community. All organizations are jointly accountable for student success.
- They work to develop an integrated academic program that allows students to earn 1-2 years of transferrable college credit.
- They provide a comprehensive support system, helping students develop academic, social, and behavioral skills necessary for college completion.
- They work with others to advocate for the advancement of the Early College High School movement.
These programs also adhere to the important “R” characteristics.
- Rigor – Instruction is rigorous in content, knowledge and habits
- Relevance – Students are engaged and encouraged to find real world connections for their learning.
- Relationships – Students are provided support and engage with faculty and staff members to attain their goals.
Early College High School can provide a wonderful opportunity for some students to earn tuition free college credit while in high school as well as become prepared for post high school college success. One study has suggested that approximately 86% of those students involved graduate from high school, 80% enroll in college and 22% earn a college degree.
The ECHS program may not be for everyone. Enrollment in the program begins when students are young, and Early College High Schools are generally small and often do not provide many of the extracurricular activities in which many students participate. But for students who are seeking a rigorous four or five year program that will give them a head start on college as well as prepare them for college success later, this may be the ideal opportunity.
As always, it is important that both parents and students know and carefully consider all of their options. There are many roads to college – and college success.