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Early Colleges/Middle Colleges: Brief Profile of State Policy

Early college high schools and middle college high schools, frequently targeted at traditionally underserved youth (low-income, minority, first-generation college-goers, at-risk of dropping out), offer students the opportunity to earn substantial amounts of postsecondary credit while still in high school. While programs may vary in design, generally speaking:

Early college high schools start ninth-grade students in a combined curriculum of high school and postsecondary credit, so that five years after entering high school, a student is expected to earn a high school diploma as well as technical certification, an associate's degree, or enough credit to enter a four-year postsecondary program as a junior. Programs may be housed at a high school, on a two- or four-year postsecondary campus, or at a third-party location.

Middle college high schools are typically housed on a postsecondary campus and offer at-risk students the opportunity to earn postsecondary credit, but not necessarily toward the goal of completing an associate's degree or technical certification.

Why does it matter?
  • Students who might not fit in at a comprehensive high school tend to gain a sense of belonging and self-confidence at a more focused program.
  • At-risk students often thrive in environments that provide real-world learning, relevance, and relationships in a small setting.
  • Highlights
  • Six states (Colorado, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Texas) have explicit policies to administer early college high schools.
  • Four states (California, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Texas) have explicit policies to administer middle college high schools.

    What's not included in this database:
  • While partnerships between districts and postsecondary institutions make early and middle college high schools available in many states, the state policies governing these partnerships are often either intended for dual enrollment, charter or alternative programs. Such policies are not usually a good fit with the unique characteristics of early and middle colleges. State policies included here are specifically designed to provide a comprehensive structure for early and middle college high schools.
  • State policies that address early college or middle college in piecemeal fashion but do not address the overall structure or functioning of programs.
  • State programs that allow high school students to earn substantial amounts of postsecondary credit but do not appear to fully align with the early or middle college model (i.e., West Virginia EDGE).

    As of August 2008, seven states have explicit state-level policies governing the creation of local early and/or middle college high school partnerships. States whose local early/middle college programs are governed by dual enrollment or charter school policies are not included in this database.

    Sources for all data points are accessible through this link.

    Methodology: This information was collected from state statutes, rules and regulations, and state education agency Web sites, and will be updated as new policies and programs are enacted.

    Last updated: August 20, 2008

    This database was compiled by Jennifer Dounay, project manager, ECS High School Policy Center. For questions, additions or corrections: 303.299.3689 or jdounay@ecs.org.
  • Brief profile of state policy
    California Middle College High Schools. After two successful middle college high schools were established in 1989 through a grant from the California Community Colleges, legislation was enacted in 1997 to encourage the expansion of middle college high schools throughout the state.
    Colorado The Fast College Fast Jobs Education Program is a pilot program established by the legislature in 2007. To participate in the pilot, districts (and "target high schools" in those districts) must meet at least one of the following criteria:

    (1) Have contracted with a community college to implement a dual degree program within the two years prior to the effective date of the 2007 legislation.
    (2) Had a graduation rate below 75% for the 2004-2005 school year, as reported by the state department of education.

    A board of cooperative services in which at least half the members are districts meeting one of the criteria above is also eligible to participate in the pilot.

    To participate in the pilot, an eligible district must enter into a contract with one or more two-year colleges, area vocational schools, or junior colleges in a junior college district to provide a fast college fast jobs education program.
    Michigan Legislation provides for fifth-year high school students, who may enroll in early or middle college high schools to earn a high school diploma and an associate's degree or up to two years of transferable postsecondary credit. (In Michigan, the terms "early college" and "middle college" are used interchangeably.)

    Legislation enacted in 2006 provides start-up funds for middle colleges focused on health sciences. 2008 S.B. 1107, which the governor signed in August 2008, provides an additional $15 million for the creation of smaller, more personalized high schools providing real-world learning to at-risk students. Early/middle college high schools will qualify for these funds.
    North Carolina Governor Mike Easley's Learn and Earn Early College High School Initiative, launched in 2004, offers students the opportunity to begin working toward earning a high school diploma and associate's degree (or two years of college credit) in five years, beginning in grade 9. The legislation for these programs refers to "cooperative innovative high school programs." The North Carolina New Schools Project, created in August 2003 by the governor's cabinet and the Public School Forum with financial support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, assists local sites in developing and implementing early college high schools.
    Pennsylvania State policy addresses both early college and middle college high school programs.

    Early college high school: A structured sequence of secondary and postsecondary credits offered over a 5- or 6-year period, allowing a program completer to earn both a high school diploma and postsecondary credits equivalent to an associate of arts degree or enough credits to enter a bachelor of arts program as a junior. Does not specify program location.

    Middle college high school: A program that offers secondary and postsecondary coursework at an eligible postsecondary institution, allowing a program completer to earn both a high school diploma and the accumulation of postsecondary credits (but not necessarily an associate of arts degree or enough credits to enter a bachelor of arts program as a junior). An eligible postsecondary institution may be a nonprofit 2- or 4-year public or private college or university or an eligible private licensed school approved to operate in the state.
    Tennessee With support from Governor Phil Bredesen, 2007 H.B. 99 (public chapter 459), modeled after North Carolina legislation, authorizes the creation of cooperative innovative high school programs, including early college high schools. The legislation also establishes the consortium for cooperative innovative education, a joint effort of the state board, department of education, Tennessee higher education commission, board of trustees of the University of Tennessee and the board of regents "to oversee cooperative innovative high school programs, to oversee articulation, alignment and curriculum development for such programs and to evaluate the success of students in the programs[.]"

    Two or more districts in cooperation with one or more public postsecondary institutions may apply to establish a cooperative innovative high school programs. Legislation directs the consortium to "develop a plan for the rollout of new cooperative innovative programs in a staggered manner and as quickly as possible so that by the 2009-2010" school year, programs are available throughout the state.
    Texas Early colleges and middle colleges are programs for students to simultaneously complete the Recommended or Advanced high school diploma and up to two years of college credit.

    Early colleges must provide a course of study allowing students to combine high school and college courses in grades 9-12, and must provide students the opportunity to complete either an associate's degree or at least 60 credit hours toward a bachelor's degree within five years of high school entry.


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