Building on a previous randomized experiment of the impact of Early Colleges (ECs) (Berger et al., 2013), the American Institutes for Research (AIR) has released a new follow-up study that assesses the longer-term impacts of ECs on students’ postsecondary outcomes 6 years after expected high school graduation. Using data from the National Student Clearinghouse, researchers studied 2,458 students in 10 early-college programs.
Researchers find strong evidence for the longer-term impacts of ECs on students’ postsecondary outcomes. EC students were more likely to enroll in and graduate from 2-year colleges, which may partly be because most of the ECs in the study were partnered with 2-year colleges. While EC students were no more likely than their peers to enroll in 4-year colleges, they were more likely to complete a bachelor’s degree and did so earlier in their academic careers. These positive impacts were similarly observed for students from different family backgrounds. Because EC students were more likely to complete college degrees earlier than their peers, researchers anticipate positive long-term EC impacts on students’ workforce and financial outcomes. While more research is needed to explore the EC impacts on later-life outcomes, the accelerated timeline of degree attainment for EC students combined with the fact that college credits earned at ECs come at little or no cost to them suggest that EC students may accrue less educational debt in their lives. Moreover, as EC students are likely to enter the workforce sooner, researchers expect that they will have higher lifetime earnings compared with their peers.
Where the mechanisms of EC impacts are concerned, researchers find that students’ high school experiences explained EC impact on overall college enrollment, but they did not explain the EC impact on enrollment in 2-year colleges. This is likely because most EC students enrolled in partnering 2-year colleges while in high school, and their high school experiences were more likely to affect their later outcomes than their outcomes during high school. However, accumulation of college credits during high school explained most of the EC impact on bachelor’s degree completion, even though the credits were earned at a 2-year college for the majority of students. This finding speaks to the important role that 2-year colleges can play in the academic trajectories of high school students, when the integration of college coursework into the high school curriculum is intentional and coheres to specific degree-attainment pathways.