Early College: The Little Reform Bundle That Could

Recently, Tom Vander Ark reviewed the literature on early college high school for the Fordham Institute. Excerpts of his piece appear below:

Ten years ago I called early college high schools the best philanthropic initiative in education that never scaled. But the idea keeps chugging along gaining steam with policy and practice innovations. It’s now big enough to call the demonstration project a resounding success and expansive enough to provide an attractive and accelerated education option to millions of families. 

Early college high schools were designed on three hypotheses:

1. An accelerated path to an associate degree would “hook” some kids and increase academic motivation, persistence, and achievement;

2. The ability to earn free college credit would be attractive to many low-income families; and

3. The opportunity to experience college success in a supportive environment would encourage a higher percentage of low income and minority students to go on to earn a four-year degree.

A new AIR evaluation has confirmed what appeared to be the case ten years ago-the initiative works. Many students and families found the proposition attractive, more students graduated from high school, all with some college credit, and more finished a four-year degree. It’s worth noting that the AIR study, unlike most evaluations is a randomized controlled trial that demonstrates causation. 

The second important observation is that, a decade after the Gates funding ended, the initiative has probably doubled in size and seems to be poised for growth.

For more commentary, see https://fordhaminstitute.org/national/commentary/early-college-little-reform-bundle-could

For the AIR evaluation, see https://www.air.org/resource/early-college-continued-success-longer-term-impact-early-college-high-schools