Early College, Early Success: Program Overview, Research Findings, and Implications for Practice

On Thursday, January 30, 2014, the College and Career Readiness and Success Center (CCRS), in partnership with the American Youth Policy Forum (AYPF), hosted a webinar titled "Early College, Early Success: Program Overview, Research Findings, and Implications for Practice."

The webinar, which was the second in a series of accelerated learning webinars, included perspectives from high school and college-level educators and researchers along with a discussion of implications for practitioners. The webinar also shared recent research findings from a study of Early College High Schools (ECHS) conducted by the American Institutes for Research.

The first panelist, Joel Vargas, provided an overview of the early college model, which is based on the idea that a significant number of credits earned in high school will help students earn their Associate of Arts (AA) degree and put them on the path to the Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree. By changing the structure and timeframe of high school, compressing the time it takes to earn a college degree, and removing financial barriers to graduation, Early College High Schools will increase the number of traditionally underrepresented youth in higher education earning postsecondary degrees.

Early College High Schools are small schools, encompassing all or some of grades 6-12, and sometimes including a thirteenth year. They are created through partnerships between secondary and postsecondary schools and the program is designed so that students are able to earn an Associate’s Degree or up to two years of college credit. The schools are also either located on or near college campuses to help students acclimate and begin to identify with the college environment. A key ECHS feature is the principle of acceleration based on academic mastery, rather than remediation. Vargas concluded that the four keys to success for Early College High Schools are structures that integrate high school and college to provide an authentic college environment, differentiated instruction for early college students that rely heavily on student-centered learning practices, supports that include tutoring and cohort support groups, and K-12 and college partnerships and policies that assume joint responsibility to organize their programs and plan the curriculum.

Michael Sinclair, principal of Brashier Middle College Charter High School, shared his lessons learned from operating an ECHS. Sinclair also stressed the need for strong supports in early college programs, including daily enrichment periods for students, strong cooperation between the school and college advisors and campus directors, peer support groups, and a close, collaborative relationship with college staff.

Sinclair also offered his thoughts on maintaining a good relationship with a postsecondary institution. In addition to being in close contact with college staff and advisors, it is also important to identify key content areas of instruction, and create a collaboration team. It is also useful to have the highest “ranking” person possible to be on the ECHS board, and to “sell” the early college program through events and interactions with students.

From the postsecondary perspective, Dr. Julie Penley shared what she’d learned from her experiences at El Paso Community College (EPCC). EPCC supports 6 Early College High Schools in El Paso, and plans to open a 7th soon.

EPCC roles include input on the curriculum, input on faculty for the early college high schools, administrative oversight, advisory committees, and providing space for students on the EPCC campuses. Dr. Penley strongly recommended working with school district partners and ensuring buy-in at the top levels from district superintendents as well as college and presidents and vice presidents. Dr. Penley also recommended in-person meetings as much as possible to be active in the hiring and training of early college high school faculty and staff. Overall, Dr. Penley stressed that good communication was critical to the program’s success.


Andrea Berger, the principal investigator for the AIR evaluation of the Early College High School Initiative, shared the data on the program and presented some key findings from a descriptive study from 2002-2009. ECHS students were mostly from populations underrepresented at universities and colleges, were outperforming other districts on state assessment exams, and were accumulating college credit and expected to graduate.

Berger also focused on sharing the recently released findings from a 3-year impact study, which found that Early College High Schools had a significant impact on both college enrollment rates and degree attainment. It also found that ECHS had significant impact on minority and low-income students and that early college students have better outcomes than they would have attending schools without ECHS programs.

Access the full resource page for the webinar, and view the presenter’s slides.

George Knowles is a web communications associate at the American Youth Policy Forum.

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