Berger, A., Turk-Bicakci, L., Garet, M., Song, M., Knudson, J., Haxton, C., Zeiser, K., Hoshen, G., Ford, J., Stephan, J., Keating, K., & Cassidy, L. (2013). Early college, early success: Early college high school initiative impact study. Washington, DC: American Institutes for Research.
- The study’s objective was to examine the effect of Early Colleges, which exposed high school students to college classes, on students’ high school achievement, persistence, and graduation; college enrollment; and college degree attainment.
- The study compared outcomes for students who participated in the Early Colleges’ admissions lotteries and were offered enrollment with the outcomes for students who participated in the lotteries but were not offered enrollment.
- The study found that Early Colleges had positive and statistically significant effects on high school and college achievement.
- The quality of causal evidence presented in this report is high because it was based on a well-implemented randomized controlled trial. This means we are confident that the estimated effects are attributable to being offered admission in an Early College, and not to other factors.
Features of the Intervention
The Early College High School Initiative exposed underserved students to college and provided support in attending college and earning college credit while in high school. By partnering with colleges and universities, the initiative offered all students an opportunity to earn an associate’s degree or up to two years of college credits toward a bachelor’s degree during high school at little or no cost to the students. Services provided varied across Early Colleges, but all Early Colleges provided tutoring and information on accessing, financing, and preparing for college. Some Early Colleges offered summer, weekend, or evening courses and some had block schedules or extended school days. Of the 10 Early Colleges examined in this study, 8 were located on college campuses.
Features of the Study
The study included 10 Early Colleges: 5 in urban areas, 2 in mid-sized cities, and 3 in small towns. Average student enrollment was 290, with the smallest at 100 students and the largest more than 600. These Early Colleges had more students who wanted admission than available slots and therefore used lotteries to allocate their slots. The study sample included 2,458 students: 1,044 were randomly granted admission to an Early College and 1,414 (the control group) were not offered admission to Early College. Slightly more than half the students were minorities, about a third were the first generation in their families to attend college, and about 45 percent were from low-income households.
The authors used data from school records, student surveys, and the National Student Clearinghouse to compare the academic outcomes of students who won admission to an Early College with those of students who were not offered admission, adjusting for baseline characteristics of the students.
- The study found that admission to an Early College had statistically significant impacts on a number of high school and college achievement and attainment outcomes. In high school, Early College students had higher English language arts achievement than students not admitted to Early Colleges (standardized score average of 0.37 versus 0.23), and were 5 percentage points more likely to graduate from high school (86 versus 81 percent).
- For college, 80 percent of Early College students had at least one record of college enrollment, compared with 71 percent of comparison students, and 51 percent of Early College students enrolled in a four-year college after high school, compared with 46 percent in the control group.
- By the end of the follow-up period, 22 percent of Early College students earned a postsecondary degree, including a certificate, associate’s degree, or bachelor’s degree, compared with 2 percent of comparison students.
Considerations for Interpreting the Findings
There was a statistically significant difference in prior achievement in English language arts between students in the treatment and control groups. The researchers believed this was due to chance and included a control variable for this difference in their model.
Causal Evidence Rating
The quality of causal evidence presented in this report is high because it was based on a well-implemented randomized controlled trial. This means we are confident that the estimated effects are attributable to being offered admission to an Early College, and not to other factors.