Section I Creating Powerful Programs
Creating Powerful Early College and Dual Enrollment Programs
The founding father of the accelerated college experience was, according to historian Ron Chernow (2004), Alexander Hamilton. Hamilton's intent to complete his degree and to save both time and money is at the core of today's early college and dual enrollment programs. (In this book, I will use the term "early college" programs for those that are 12 credits or more, take place on a college campus, and have a student support element. I use "dual enrollment" to describe programs that are fewer than 12 college credits and/ or take place on a high school campus). In the world of education reform, early college and dual enrollment programs are "young, scrappy, and hungry" - only a few decades old, but still full of promise.
Early college and dual enrollment programs began decades ago as an experiment in gifted education. These programs were based on a radical premise - could high school students, if they were exposed to college coursework, rise to the occasion? Research in early college and dual enrollment programs demonstrates that, with the right design principles, high school students can achieve better results than college freshmen in collegelevel classes. These high school students, when they transition to full-time college enrollment, will achieve better outcomes as a result of these early college experiences. Additionally, students who are low-income, students of color, or whose family are immigrants are particularly helped by involvement in well-designed early colleges (Troutman et al., 2018; An, 2013).
However, while these programs can help students achieve higher GPAs, graduate on time, and save money, they are able to do so only if high schools and higher education collaborate to create a program that supports these students. Poorly implemented early college and dual enrollment programs can have a negative impact, giving students the false impression that they are ready for college, or can leave students with Fs in college classes that cause long-term harm. These Fs can follow students into college and affect their federal financial aid.
Alexander Hamilton, Early College Founding Father
If there is a figure who exemplifies the spirit ofthe early college, it is Alexander Hamilton, who as an immigrant and a believer in the acceleration of education, mirrors the strengths of many of our students and families in programs today. Hamilton, meeting with Princeton University's President Witherspoon, told him that he wanted to enter the college and advance with "as much rapidity as his exertions would enable him to do," graduating earlier than his peers. Witherspoon was impressed with Hamilton's preparation, but the trustees of Princeton were unwilling to go along with the proposal. In real life, unlike in the play, Hamilton took the news in stride and never punched the bursar as he does in Lin-Manuel Miranda's award-winning musical, Hamilton.
While Alexander Hamilton never attended an early college experience, he has many of the characteristics of students who are successful in early college efforts. Early college and dual enrollment efforts attract students who are seeking to complete the high school and college experiences more quickly and more affordably. They also tend to attract students from immigrant backgrounds, who are likely to favor academic pursuits over the social and athletic focus on many traditional high schools. They attract students and groups with something to prove, who view their academic achievement as defiance of how society seeks to define and pigeonhole them.
The Evolution of Early Colleges
and Dual Enrollment
The early college and dual enrollment movements grew from efforts to allow students to begin the traditional college experience before age 18. Going to college "early" is a relative term. For students before the twentieth century in America, they might enroll at an age that was younger than a modern traditional American student might. Students would apply to enroll in college, and based on their academic achievements thus far, could be admitted when they proved they were ready to do so by way of classes taken or a test administered by the college itself.
What we think of now as "early college" grew out of efforts to allow students younger than traditional college age (i.e., 18-22) to do college level work. This grew out of the world of gifted education, where intellectual acceleration was the biggest part of the agenda for sending students to do college-level work at a pre-college age. In the late 1940s, proposals were introduced to reorganize all of education around this concept, with students taking classes in elementary school (grades K—6), then a middle/ high school (grades 7-10), then a junior college (grades 10-14). The 1947 President's Commission for Higher Education for Democracy report suggested, "The time has come to provide financial assistance to competent students in the tenth through fourteenth grades who would not be able to continue [higher education] without such assistance." This radical change never gained traction.
Some of the earliest successful early college programs were residential, such as Simon's Rock, affiliated with Bard College, which began in 1966. The Simon's Rock effort to offer an early, but sheltered, college experience, dovetails with what we know about the cognitive development of young people (Simon's Rock College, History, 2019). By high school, many young people are able to tackle complex cognitive tasks required by a college curriculum. However, due to differential brain development, high school students lag in their decision-making and social skills, and therefore need support in these areas to be successful. Until 2000, efforts at early attendance at college remained a vibrant field, but a limited sized one, both in terms of enrollment and research. It was the intervention of a major foundation initiative that truly changed this field.
The Big Bang: How the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Changed Everything for Early College
While efforts to have students attend college early resonated with some educators, students, and families, the movement to send students to college early to provide intellectual challenge did not take off numerically. Before the year 2000, research and writing around early college centered on the needs of gifted students to do the level of college work that they were prepared to master. Some institutions, most notably Bard College, moved into the field of providing a broader early college experience, with its first New York City program opening in 2001, building off their experience with gifted education.
By the 2000s, a broader field of early college and dual enrollment was emerging, focused on using college credits earned in high school to encourage college attendance by urban and low-income students. Backed by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation beginning in 2002, this effort created networks of Early or Middle College high schools that provided the first test for the idea that providing students with college-level work while in high school would boost achievement at the time and provide for longterm educational positive outcomes. These efforts took root in some states (Texas and North Carolina), which provided the first large-scale evidence that these programs could have a positive impact. This provided both proof of concept, that early colleges could work, as well as proof that this model was scalable (Berger et al., 2013).
Non-profit organizations such as Jobs for the Future became a major player in the field as well, combining the Early College idea with Career and Technical Education, most often through community colleges. This might help students graduate from high school with credits towards an Associate's degree in a high demand field, sometimes with a corporate partner supporting these efforts (and hiring its graduates) (Jobs for the Future, 2019).
By 2010, much data had been collected on early colleges and dual enrollment, and these programs became known as an evidence-based strategy to boost high school achievement, as well as to increase the number of students attending and graduating from higher education. However, early colleges, once they ceased to be the focus of the Gates Foundation work, still struggle to interest either government or foundation investment, and require a good deal of local investment to get off the ground.
0 Lead to Launch: Bard College
Bard College has established early colleges across the country, and notes the following as key aspects that are needed to launch a successful new program:
- • Strong local school leadership
- • A real and documented need for early college in the community
- • A school district willing to build a long-term financial model to support the effort
- • A local philanthropic community committed to helping with startup costs
Bard College, and its affiliated Simon's Rock Campus, has a unique role in the development of early college programs. Simon's Rock was created to give gifted students a chance to experience college-level work at an earlier age, while living in a supportive residential setting. In 1979, it was taken over by Bard College, which reshaped the early college model into a way to reach students in primarily urban high schools with an intellectual experience such as is typically provided to any outside highly elite private secondary schools.
Dr. Stephen Tremaine, Vice President at Bard College, notes that while early college is a movement that involves access and affordability for students, at its core, "it is largely about the idea that the intellectual life of high school students is richer than we think." Bard's work in New York City, which started in 2001, was designed to bring a residential small liberal arts college education to students in New York's public high schools. The motivation was to reach students who could do the work required at the college level, but were trapped in a high school system that was not meeting their needs: Tremaine says, "A lot of people in high school are being turned off rather than inspired to aim higher. The last years of high school are a poor use of time."
The goal of the early college was to provide an experience that would propel its students forward. "If early college is about giving young people the access to a full range of opportunities, and if you are a first-generation student, whatever exposure they get in high school is a stand in for the whole thing. If it looks malnourished, we risk turning you off to the whole endeavor." Bard went on to build on this work with a nationwide consortium of schools, all committed to improving and transforming public school systems. Tremaine offers, "We develop public schools in which high school and college work happen in one roof with one faculty - able to pay attention to and support the learning needs of adolescents in college curriculum - and build supports around their needs."
The goal of these schools is ambitious. Tremaine indicates, "Our premise is not to have to lower the bar or expectations. We are creating a higher bar for them. In an early college, the student body is fired up about this opportunity and step up to the challenge. This is not a student body you lower the bar for." Giving students only "access" to college is important, but "the extent to which the program serves access is only as good as commitment to quality." In spite of this track record of commitment, Bard has been limited in its expansion plans by funding, as public school districts do not always have the funding to support programs; philanthropic funds have been required to fill this gap.
What's in It for Higher Education?
While the benefits of early college high schools appear obvious to their proponents, the idea of having high schools on college campuses challenges many college and university educators. Professors worry about the different developmental needs of younger teenagers, and argue that they are not trained (or interested) in secondary education. They may fear being asked to water down their curriculum or adjust their grading practices to accommodate high schoolers. Concerns about privacy rights of minors and FERPA compliance often arise, as do issues of age-appropriate course content. Instructors and administrative staff alike balk at the idea of groups of teenagers causing disruptions on campus due to immaturity or "high-school" behavior. In some cases, dual enrollment or early college programs can be viewed as a threat to introductory class college enrollments (Gilbert, 2017), or as contributing to racial or income inequality (Miller et al., 2017).
The research on early college and dual enrollment programs strongly indicates that these programs are effective, and contribute to, rather than erode, the college's commitment to diversity, academic excellence, and equity. This research case has only become more compelling over the past decade, as researchers have moved from studying national data sets of students in early colleges to case studies of individual programs over time. Both types of studies have found that early college experiences can boost graduation rates, raise college GPAs, and shorten time to graduation among all students - including low income and minority students - when compared to their peers who did not attend early college programs (Troutman et al., 2018).
Case Study of Early College
High School Success
Dr. Ellen Fischer, principal of Early College Alliance at Eastern Michigan University (EMU), analyzed the outcomes of her program, and was able to compare EMU's early college students directly to the students they are sitting in class with - traditional college first-year students. When examined head to head, some key results stand out: Early college graduates have earned Bachelor's Degrees at far higher rates than their non-ECA peers, with most ECA graduates continuing their education at EMU. Early college students were equal or greater in diversity than their peers across the county, and African-American students benefited greatly from early college enrollment and were able to graduate at a higher rate as a result. The impact for African-American students stood out, as they were far more successful in the early college program than in other school systems in the county and throughout the state, both urban and suburban, low-income and high-income.
Higher education leaders can learn lessons from the early college and dual enrollment experiences, and can apply what works with early college students to traditional first-year students. Early college programs have developed facilitated support for students as they move into college classes, and have developed expertise in the type of teaching, mentoring, and advising that allows students to thrive. College leaders can emulate the focus that early colleges have on social/emotional learning. Early college students learn non-academic keys to successfully navigating a college classroom, and learn explicitly how to interact with professors, how to seek help when not succeeding in class, and how to learn from failure. In addition, they directly learn what college-readiness researcher David Conley (2007) terms
"key academic behaviors," such as note-taking and study skills. Finally, early colleges can provide a pipeline of students who are ready to be successful on campus, and who are used to navigating the foibles of that system. While university marketing can spend up to $5,000 per enrolled student to recruit, early college students are already in the classroom and the hall, and usually just need to be reminded to apply on time.
What K-12 Schools Get Out of Early Colleges
K-12 school systems can use early colleges to meet a number of challenges. First, early colleges provide an authentic level of high expectations for students to meet. It is impossible to overstate the importance of high expectations - with support to help them meet those expectations - for high school students, particularly for those in families with little (or negative) college experience. Early colleges demonstrate to students what is needed in a college course or majors by having them take a class in the subject on a real campus with a real professor - the difference between "showing" and "telling." In many ways, early colleges simply lift the barriers between students and the college experience and give them a chance to succeed, a powerful act of trust.
K-12 systems can also use early colleges to manage costs while expanding programs. Moving advanced courses to a college or community college campus keeps the school system from having to recruit teachers in narrow subjects, staffing for a small number of students interested in highly advanced coursework. What is learned from the early college experience can help K-12 districts rethink their high school and middle school offerings, giving them a real-time sense of what has worked and not worked at the district level. Early colleges also draw students and families back into the district who left because of low academic performance, often to private schools. Finally, early college programs, designed well, boost diversity and the range of students served.
For parents and students, right now, cost is the major driver that shapes interest in early college. The costs of higher education, and the lack of ways to pay for it, have increased the demand for and interest in early college programs, to the point where other motivations (interesting coursework, getting ahead in studies, increased skills) have taken a back seat. Particularly for first-generation students, or those from immigrant backgrounds, the need to minimize college costs, loan debt, and to embark on a career, are all at the top of the agenda, with other motivations coming into focus if the first criteria are met. College and dual enrollment programs can prove to first-generation college students, and to their families, that they can be successful in college, fighting back the voices in their head, their family, and their community, that might express doubt about the process.
For communities, early college and dual enrollments programs offer a unique resource that can be used to boost the overall economy of the region. Early colleges are attractive to recruit people to live in an area, and they are a great way to spotlight educational achievement. In the long term, by enabling more people in the community to achieve a college degree, they can help build a sustainable economic base for a city or a region.
($ Early College/Dual Enrollment Edge:
Dr. Jack Leonard's research demonstrates that to start and thrive, early college and dual enrollment programs need:
- • Entrepreneurial leaders willing to take risks and bend some rules
- • Commitment from both the higher education and K-12 side
- • Work to engage with all relevant nuts and bolts of partnership
- • Leaders who succeed the founders, who are equally committed to the effort
Early College and Dual Enrollment: What's in It for Whom?
Most of us involved in higher education feel our eyes start to glaze over when someone asks, "What is in it for us in early college?" Rather than reacting defensively to the question, education researcher Jack Leonard (2013), turned this into a research question, identifying the seven different ways in which early college and dual enrollment stakeholders think about the effort. As Leonard described these theories and applied them to early college/dual enrollment:
- 1. Efficiency: Early college programs allow colleges and school districts to access a resource at a lower cost than to develop those resources themselves, such as college classes. An early college or dual enrollment program is a way of efficiently buying college credits on behalf of families, who otherwise would be paying a far higher sticker price.
- 2. Resource dependence: Institutions are not able to do everything for themselves, and enter into partnerships to gain access to resources they may not be able to develop. High schools would need to invest in professional development to create instructors ready to teach college-level classes. It may be easier to develop an early college program to access this resource external to the K-12 school.
- 3. Leverage: Colleges or high schools can pursue early college or dual enrollment to grow in their marketing efforts or in prestige, or to tap new sources of revenue. Some college dual enrollment programs have developed a statewide constituency (University of Connecticut), and some early college programs have spread to multiple sites (Bard).
- 4. Learning: Institutions can come together to learn more about their own operations as well as their partners' operations. Alas, educational institutions are no more likely than any other institution to pursue learning.
- 5. Legitimacy: Institutions may enter into early college or dual enrollment efforts because the public, and their stakeholders, expect them to as part of their commitment to the common good.
- 6. Stakeholders: The relationships of individual and groups of people may be key to early college and dual enrollment efforts. Examples might include personal friendship between a superintendent and a college president that serves as a catalyst.
- 7. Domain focus: Stakeholders may come together in early college/ dual enrollment efforts to help address a major national problem, such as lack of college readiness, with the proposed program pointing the way to a solution.
An, B.P. (2013). The Impact of Dual Enrollment on College Degree Attainment. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 35(1), 57-75.
Berger, A., Turk-Bicakci, L., Caret, M., Song, M., Knudson, ]., Haxton, C., ... & Keating, K. (2013). Early College, Early Success: Early College High School Initiative Impact Study. American Institutes for Research.
Chernow, R. (2004). Alexander Hamilton. New York: Penguin Books.
Conley, D. (2007). Redefining College Readiness, http://www.aypf.org/ documents/RedefiningCollegeReadiness.pdf. Retrieved November 14, 2020.
Fischer, E.L. (2016). Laying the Foundation: An Investigation of Bachelor's Degree Attainment Rates of Early College High School Graduates. Master's Theses and Doctoral Dissertations. Paper 668. Eastern Michigan University. https://commons.emich.edu/theses/668. Retrieved November 14, 2020.
Gilbert, E. (2017). How Dual Enrollment Contributes to Inequality. Chronicle of Higher Education, November 5. https://www.chronicle.com/article/how-dual-enrollment-contributes-to-inequality/. Retrieved November 14, 2020.
Leonard, J. (2013). Negotiated Issues in an Early College Partnership: Description and Understanding through Interorganizational Theory. Current Issues in Education, 16(3).
Miller, T., Kosiewicz, H., Wang, E.L., Marwah, E., Delhommer, S. and Daugherty, L. (2017). Dual Credit Education in Texas: Interim Report. RAND Corporation: Santa Monica, CA. https://www.rand.org/pubs/ research_reports/RR2043.html. Retrieved November 14, 2020.
Troutman, D., Hendrix-Soto, A., Creusere, M. and Mayer, E. (2018). Dual Credit and Success in College. University of Texas System. Austin, Texas.
United States. President's Commission on Higher Education., Zook, G.F. (1947). Higher Education for American Democracy: A Report. Washington, DC: U. S. Govt. Print. Off.
Vargas, J. (2019). Breaking the Boundaries between High School and College: How to Scale Success for Low-Income Students. Jobs for the Future, https://www.jff.org/resources/breaking-boundaries-between -high-school-and-college-how-scale-success-low-income-students/. Retrieved November 14, 2020.