Early Colleges Expand Access for Minority, Low-Income Students

1 in 5 early college students graduated high school with a college degree, a study found.

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Students who attend early college high schools, particularly women, minority students and those from low-income backgrounds, have better academic outcomes than students in traditional high schools, according to a recent review conducted by the Department of Education's research arm.

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In 2002, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation launched the Early College High School Initiative with the intent of increasing college access for traditionally underrepresented groups in higher education. Since then, more than 240 early college high schools, which partner with local colleges, have opened in 28 states and the District of Columbia.

A study, originally conducted by the American Institutes for Research, reported students who attend early college high schools had better high school graduation rates, significantly better achievement in English, higher rates of postsecondary enrollment and higher rates of college degree attainment. The Institute of Education Sciences' What Works Clearinghouse confirmed several of the report's findings in a review released Tuesday. 

Students who attended early college high schools performed significantly better in English Language Arts.

The report followed nearly 2,500 student from three cohort years (students who entered ninth grade in 2006-06, 2006-07 and 2007-08) through three years past high school graduation. The researchers examined 1,044 students who attended 10 early colleges located in five states throughout the country, compared with 1,414 students who attended traditional high schools. Eight of the early colleges were typical four-year high programs and two were five-year programs. 

Students at early college high schools had significantly higher high school graduation rates.

Overall, 86 percent of early college students graduated from high school during the study period, compared with 81 percent of the comparison students. Additionally, college enrollment was significantly higher for early college students (80 percent, compared with 71 percent) as was college degree attainment during the study period (22 percent, compared with 2 percent).

Early college students were significantly more likely to earn postsecondary degrees during the study period.

Early college students who subsequently enrolled in college were also less likely (18 percent versus 22 percent) to need developmental education, which can cost colleges billions of dollars annually.

Attending an early college high school also appeared to have a significantly stronger impact on college degree attainment for women, racial and ethnic minorities and low-income students than it did for men, nonminority students and non-low-income students.

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Nearly one-quarter of female students who attended early colleges earned a college degree within the study period, compared with 1 percent of female comparison students. Likewise, 65 percent of racial and ethnic minority students who attended early colleges earned a college degree, compared with 1 percent of comparison students. 

"This initiative challenges long-held assumptions about who can be successful in college and when," the report says. "By combining two systems, secondary and postsecondary, it provides a different way of thinking about the role, and potential, of college."