Section IV Building Sustainable Programs
Measuring Impact to Build Sustainable Early College and Dual Enrollment Programs
This chapter covers two of the most critical issues for the long-term survival and success of early colleges: evaluating the impact of your program and finding the resources to sustain this work. These two areas are interrelated, because most funders now want to see evaluation data even before they consider funding an effort. Interestingly, early college funding has long trailed its evidence of effectiveness. An long list of high school reforms have received major infusions of federal funding. However, there has been limited investment in early college initiatives, which is surprising because of the large body of data that supports their effectiveness.
Q Lead to Launch: Lane Glenn,
President, Northern Essex Community College, Massachusetts
Lane Glenn became involved in early college and dual enrollment in his time in Michigan, where he worked with two communities (Pontiac and Auburn Hills) to create programs for students not on track for college. His lessons on building programs include:
1. Community colleges need to build early college and dual enrollment programs for students who are on the fence about whether college is for them. These students are also more likely to be place-bound and will stay in the community after graduation.
- 2. Institutions need to set important and far-reaching goals. In Lawrence, Massachusetts, Northern Essex Community College is committed to raising the percentage of the population with a college degree by 100%, and hopes in the long-term to double that percentage again.
- 3. Leaders need to fundraise in their communities for early college and dual enrollment programs, as legislative priorities can change, and even promised funding can dry up after a few years.
Measuring Early College/
Dual Enrollment Impact
For most early college programs, it can be quite straightforward to collect data on student performance. Many programs track the demographics of the students who are in the program; they separate out the subgroups of students in the program (English language learners, students receiving special education services, non-white students). They often examine the academic outcomes of the students in the program (grades and pass rates). This is often supplemented with surveys and focus groups of participants. A next step in evaluation would be to follow alumni into their higher education or workforce context and try to make a case for their long-term success as a reflection of the program's impact.
These are all key measures but are not considered strong evidence in the world of educational research. As early colleges draw motivated students, they can be seen as a cut above their peers. Unless early colleges can show that their students are roughly equivalent to other regular high school students, or can show that the program has randomized admissions, evidence of impact is vulnerable to criticism.
Rigorous research from the Massachusetts Departments of Elementary & Secondary Education and Higher Education demonstrates that early college programs have a positive relationship on college course taking, academic achievement, high school graduation rates, FAFSA completion, and college enrollment after high school. Using the state's K-12 data system, researchers took each early college student, and identified a "peer" somewhere else in the state to provide a fair comparison of the impact of these programs.
The results of this study were striking. Demographic analysis showed that the vast majority of students in early colleges in the state are students of color, and that most are economically disadvantaged as well. Relative to their matched peers, students in Massachusetts early college programs earned college credits at a rate far higher, and they also were much more likely to complete the FAFSA and to enroll in college.
Students in Lawrence, Massachusetts, literally led the state when it came to their outcomes. Nearly all (94%) of 12th graders were headed for college, most (77%) had completed their FAFSA, and the vast majority (85%) had earned 12 or more credits with a C or higher average. In each of these areas, Lawrence early college students far exceeded the achievement of the matched pair students by 20 or more percentage points.
These results occurred during an academic year (2019—20) in which students were stressed and often cut off from the supports that traditionally help them apply for colleges, complete financial aid forms, and avoid the summer melt that plagues low-income students who get accepted to college, but do not show up in September for their classes. High school students told us that early college motivated them to stay connected with their courses, with their college courses taking top priority.
0The Early College/Dual Enrollment Edge:
According to national research by the American Institutes of Research:
- • Early colleges generate at least 15 times return on investment for every dollar put into programming.
- • Early college graduates gain over $33,000 in direct benefit to themselves as a result of attending the program.
- • The public gets an extra $24,000 in benefit from the student attending early college, in the form of increased taxes and reduced benefits that need to be spent.
Measuring Long-Term Success and Return on Investment
Researchers at the American Institutes of Research (AIR) have evaluated early colleges at the largest scale. AIR is a top non-profit organization that takes on national and state-level evaluation projects to better understand the impact of policy interventions such as early college. Like most top researchers in the field of early college and dual enrollment, Dr. Kristine Zeiser came from the field of demography and social policy, with an interest in inequality. She joined AIR in the middle of studies of early college impact, particularly those looking at the long-term impact of the intervention. Unlike most educational interventions, early colleges had the advantage of being at a scale where randomized studies were possible, and long-term longitudinal studies were also becoming more doable.
The key to the long-term study was the National Student Clearinghouse, which holds almost all of the data in the United States on where students attend college and the progress that they are making each year. Zeiser said, "I want to stick with early college students until they are 50." However, there is still not an easy way to connect early college students to both their educational record and then on to the employment and earnings data. This next step would allow researchers to more accurately capture the longitudinal impact of early college and investigate whether the head start that early college graduates get turns into long-term gains, or fades as the students get older and the more conventionally educated students catch up.
Zeiser noted that there were some preconceptions that she sees her research fighting against. One of the biases against early college and dual enrollment is the fact that so many programs are based in community colleges. As a result, many policymakers and members of the public associate the programs with getting two-year degrees, then stopping and heading into the labor market. However, Zeiser's research showed that students in early college, even if they were attending a community college-based program, were more likely to seek a four-year degree immediately upon graduation (75% headed to four-year institutions) and to complete their degrees.
Early college is, for researchers, a tough sell. Zeiser said that some in education still regard early college and dual enrollment as "fake college," even though the quantitative data shows the impact on students' lives. She argued that researchers need to get inside the early college classroom and do more qualitative research to help document what happens inside that classroom and how it compares to the standard college classroom.
AIR's Dr. Drew Atchison became involved in early college through his work in educational finance, and he became a leader in studies of returns on investment of early college. He found that students in these programs made tremendous gains, and that these gains were found in not only private benefits (to the student) but also public benefits (greater taxes paid, less unemployment). The AIR team's 2019 study found that "[Early-college] programs cost approximately $950 more per student per year than traditional high school programs, or $3,800 per student for the four years of high school. The benefits of [early college] resulting from the higher educational attainment of [early-college] students amount to slightly more than $57,000. The result is a net present value (NPV) of almost $54,000 and a benefit-to-cost ratio of 15.0." This is a striking finding, as most interventions deliver less return at a much higher cost.
The researchers from AIR believe that early college and dual enrollment programs have a significant role in higher education, to help traditionally underserved students to be better prepared academically for college and to identify the right post-secondary institutions in which to enroll. They also see early college as a way to support these students during the process, in a way that a traditional dual enrollment program does not.
Researching Early College and
Dual Enrollment: Brian An
Dr. Brian An, a quantitative educational researcher at the University of Iowa, has been among the most influential people in the field of documenting the impact of dual enrollment and early college programs. His work has shaped state level policy, as well the general perception that researchers have about the field.
From the beginning of his research, An found that his fellow college faculty were the most skeptical about dual enrollment and early college programs, even when then quantitative evidence of their positive impact was strong. Faculty might object that Advanced Placement classes were better preparation than dual enrollment. Faculty also often focused on the college search and enrollment process in terms of selective colleges, which relatively few American students attend, while dual enrollment programs flourished in systems with public colleges that could offer coursework and accept the credits.
When An started in the field, there were relatively few researchers working on the issues of dual enrollment and how it impacted student achievement and affordability. That has changed, as An now gets at least a manuscript per month to review in the area. An is still working as a researcher in the field, looking at the racial/ethnic differences in the rates at which students enroll and succeed in dual enrollment efforts. However, he is frustrated that dual enrollment does not always "catch students up" to their better off peers, as the difference in the K-12 schooling they receive before their dual enrollment experience can hamper their progress. Even though dual enrollment has positive impacts for students from families with less education, equal participation of well-off and less-well-off students does little to reduce the gaps between the two groups.
Based on his research, An believes that anyone starting a dual enrollment program should take a hard look at their mission, and focus on the students and families that really need the intervention. For well-off and well-educated families, AP classes will meet their needs, and dual enrollment and early college efforts should take on the issues of lower income and less educated families. The mission of early colleges and dual enrollment programs should be to raise the odds of success for those families. He likens early college and dual enrollment programs to reflecting the ideals of community colleges - to broaden opportunities for those who need them most.
Seeking Funding for Early College
Programs: State-Level Policies
How an early college is funded depends a great deal on the state in which it is located. There is a stark difference in outcomes between states that have invested early in these programs and those that have not. States such as North Carolina and Texas made large, systematic investments in early college. Beneficiaries of early Cates Foundation investment, these states expanded these programs across their cities and rural areas, creating a network of schools that had a common model, but were adapted to their circumstances. North Carolina also funds a fifth year of high school, which has also given students a leg up in college, providing up to another 30 credits (for free) before students transition to being full-time college students. The research that then has emerged from these leading states has spurred the effort of other states to catch up.
States that were part of the second wave of early college, such as Michigan, learned valuable lessons from the first wave, and built similar systems of schools, though not as extensive as the work done in Texas or North Carolina. Early college has flourished in these second-wave states as well, providing more research on the model and its impact.
The states now aiming to "catch up" on early college are those that have long considered themselves leaders in other aspects of K-12 education, such as California and Massachusetts. While these states have built many interventions, early college has been hampered by the division between K-12 and higher education systems, as well as the power of teachers' unions in both sectors. While these states have an opportunity to learn from the mistakes and problems of other systems, they need champions in the political and policy systems to build a critical mass of high-quality programs.
Potential Funding Structures
Early college and dual enrollment programs have been funded in a variety of ways, ranging from full support by state government, to mixed support between governments and philanthropy, to models where students and families bear part of the costs. There are several important options for early colleges and dual enrollment in terms of funding, listed below:
1. Tuition and scholarship model. Dual enrollment programs have typically started and grown with this approach, in which students pay extra fees to take the high school class for college credit, which offsets the costs of administering the program and training the high school staff. As concerns about equity have grown, top programs have looked to using some of the revenue to create scholarships for needy students, particularly those in urban schools or schools with a high free and reduced lunch rate. University of Connecticut is the leader in this regard, offering scholarships to students who need support to participate in the program.
- 2. District consortium model. In states without direct funding of early college or dual enrollment programs, school districts can form consortia and purchase college credits from local higher education institutions. Districts contribute based on their per-student allowance from the state and buy "seats" in the program each year for the early college. The consortium negotiates a discounted rate with the college and rents space at the college for program offices. As long as all participating schools and the higher education partner remain committed to the program, this model allows the flexibility for districts too small to create their own program to offer early college opportunities.
- 3. Public charter school model. Some programs have taken the opportunity to become their own school/district through the charter school model. This often comes with a dedicated state or local funding stream per student. While this can be a strong model for community colleges that plan a full-day program for students, it detaches the early college/dual enrollment program from local schools, and sets early college programs up as a competitor for resources.
- 4. Public school model. For schools in the Bard Early College Network, the preference is for the early college high school to be a regular public school, part of the school system itself. This model allows for maximum collaboration within the K-12 system, and does not set early college apart as an elite option. However, low per pupil spending can make it difficult to start or sustain a program longterm using this model.
- 5. Direct state funding model. States that have provided direct per pupil payments for early college programs have seen the quickest growth of these institutions and longest staying power. Having early college funding as a part of the state education budget, without having numerous workarounds and pass-through relationships, clearly indicates state support for these projects, and encourages schools and colleges to invest resources and energy in this area.
- 6. Fifth year of high school model. States that have allowed early college students to take a fifth year of high school have allowed students to earn more credits at no cost to them or their family (the state fully funds this effort). Particularly in STEM fields, the extra year of support while taking college classes has meant both higher enrollment rates and a better chance of success in STEM majors.
- 7. Philanthropic funding. In some states, foundation funding has filled the gap for early college programs, ranging from grants to fill the gap between public school funding and what is needed to run a program, to full scale bankrolling of an early college system by a foundation. While these grants have been critical for the creation and scaling up of early college programs, they can be problematic because state and local policymakers avoid making long-term sustained commitment to early college programs.
What You Can Do When You Need Funds and Support for your Program
No matter the approach, early college programs may have gaps in their funding. How can community/business partners support early college efforts? A few ways to build support for early college initiatives include:
Start Now: In today's media and political climate, it is important to publicize "quick wins" as you go, not waiting for milestones such as a first graduation or a big evaluation report. This is difficult for those of us used to working in program evaluation, where it is customary to wait for detailed outcomes before presenting a program to the public. Instead, as good things happen, even modest in scale, it is critical to get the word out about what you are doing and get your program attention for the good it has already started to do.
Build Buzz: High-quality photos, materials, and videos can really help people connect to the effort. Parents and students often do not know about newer options, and they need to see some of the real students involved in order to believe that they can do it. Getting the college/university or district publicity staff, no matter how small, behind your effort is key to getting the word out about your effort.
Donations: Whether it is a six-figure check, or the gift of lab coats and goggles, building support from corporations, philanthropy, and other groups is critical for long-term success.
Connections to Career: When community partners can offer internships, job shadowing, job speakers, tours, it helps students connect what they are doing in math class to the real world. Government agencies such as workforce development boards can be critical here, aligning early college experiences with real workplace opportunities, such as summer employment.
Building Political Support: Schools are poorly set up to advance the cause of early colleges. Local officeholders, business people, and colleges are often good at getting the ear of lawmakers and education officials, and using it to build long-term support for funding these efforts. I invite local state representatives to talk to our early college government class every term in order to personalize the students who are benefiting from the program. This kind of firsthand testimony is key, particularly when your effort lacks the lobbying dollars that competing reform efforts have.
Grants and Gifts: Be prepared to apply to multiple funders for grants and gifts. While not all funders are open to the idea of early college, the metrics you can provide about the success of your program will help you make progress with local, state, and national foundations and funding agencies. Draw on the research evidence found throughout this book to help you make your case!
Building Support: It Starts with a Step or Two ...
Gaining funds and support for early college and dual enrollment programs can be a daunting task, particularly for beginners in areas such as evaluation and grant writing. The first step in the process is to create and run an excellent program that meets the needs of your student. From there, do not be afraid to start small in building support and, gradually, with experience, scale your efforts to match the needs of your program. Remember that hundreds of programs have been in your shoes and reach out to your colleagues for advice and support in this area.
An, B.P. (2013). The Impact of Dual Enrollment on College Degree Attainment: Do Low-SES Students Benefit? Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 35(1), 57-75. doi: 10.3102/0162373712461933
Atchison, D., Zeiser, K.L., Mohammed, S., Knight, D.S. and Levin, J. (2019). The Costs and Benefits of Early College High Schools. Education Finance and Policy, 1-56. doi: 10.1162/edfp_a_00310
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