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Early Colleges/Middle Colleges: Unique Characteristics

This database highlights unique components of state early college and middle college high school policies that do not fit into existing data points, but are worthy of consideration by state policymakers.

Why does it matter?
  • Early college high school programs maximize their potential to improve the lives of at-risk students when programs are focused on preparing students for jobs with career potential, and when programs are aligned with local and state economic development priorities.
  • Allowing homeschool and private school students to attend early and middle college programs is of benefit to those students. However, serving students not previously served does result in additional costs to the state and district.

    Highlights
  • Early college high school programs in North Carolina and Tennessee must be tied to local and state economic development priorities.
  • North Carolina makes early college high school courses available online.
  • Certain Michigan middle colleges focused on health sciences must include a hospital or health care organization as a partner. Students completing such programs may have access to immediate employment upon graduation.
  • California requires middle college high school programs to offer a community service component.
  • Pennsylvania specifies that nonpublic and homeschool students may attend early and middle college programs.

    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. For questions, additions or corrections: 303.299.3689 or jdounay@ecs.org.

    Unique characteristics
    California Legislation specifies that in addition to a college/career preparatory curriculum and reduced student-adult ratio, middle college high schools must offer "[f]lexible scheduling to allow for work internships, community service experience, ... interaction with community college student role models [,] [o]pportunities for experiential internships, work apprenticeships, and community service."
    Colorado The contract between the district and the institution of higher education must specify:
    (1) Any limits on the number of students who may enroll in postsecondary courses through the program
    (2) Any limits on the number of postsecondary courses a participating student may enroll in per semester
    (3) The associate's degree programs or career and technical education programs available to students through the program.

    The contract must also be approved by the institution's governing board and the Colorado Commission on Higher Education.

    In addition, the district must design the program "to include courses with a sufficient level of rigor to ensure that a student who participates in the fast college fast jobs program does not need skills remediation, but develops a sufficiently high level of skills to successfully complete postsecondary-level course work."
    Michigan The health sciences-focused middle colleges created through MICH. COMP. LAWS § 388.1664 must include a hospital or health care organization as a partner (in addition to a K-12 and a postsecondary partner). These programs must provide:
    (1) Outreach programs to provide middle and high school students with information on career opportunities in health sciences.
    (2) An individualized education plan for each student (this predates the requirement that all students, effective with the Class of 2011, have an "educational development plan" to guide their high school course taking).
    (3) Clinical rotations that provide opportunities for students to observe careers in health sciences.

    In practice, students in the health sciences middle colleges may have access to immediate employment upon program completion.
    North Carolina Economic development: State policy makes clear that early college programs must further state and/or regional economic development efforts, not just student achievement. Programs must:
    (1) Provide students with the opportunity to gain skills needed to secure high-skilled employment.
    (2) Allow students to complete a technical or academic program in a high-demand field that offers high wages.
    (3) Enable students completing the program to pass employer exams, if applicable.

    An application to establish an early college high school must include a "statement of how the program relates to the Economic Vision Plan adopted for the economic development region in which the program is to be located." In approving an application, the state board of education and the postsecondary institution's governing board must give priority to applications that, among other characteristics, "address the economic development needs of the economic development regions in which they are located[.]"

    A private business or organization and/or the county board of commissioners in the county in which the program is located may participate in the development of an early college high school program. Such additional partners must jointly apply with the district and the postsecondary institution's board of trustees to establish an early college program.

    Online early college: Beginning in the 2007-2008 school year, students in participating high schools who meet college-set prerequisites may take Learn and Earn courses online. (A student's high school does not need to be a Learn and Earn high school.) Students may access these courses during the regular school day. An "online course facilitator will assist students in the classroom." According to the state department of education Web site, about 277 high schools were participating in the online initiative as of fall 2007.

    EARN grants: Two-year EARN grants allow qualifying Learn and Earn and other students to graduate from college with no debt obligations. Candidates must have graduated from a North Carolina high school within seven months of receiving a grant, be a full-time student at an eligible North Carolina postsecondary institution, a community college or University of North Carolina campus, be a dependent of a parent whose household income does not exceed 200% of the federal poverty level, and remain in good academic standing.
    Pennsylvania Yes. In order to be eligible to receive state grant funds to support a concurrent enrollment program, including an early or middle college program, a school entity (district or area vocational-technical school) must form a concurrent enrollment committee of at least six members, of at which at least four must be appointed by the local board. The members must include:
    (1) A parent of a high school student enrolled in the district or area vocational-technical school
    (2) A teacher in and chosen by teachers in the district or area vocational-technical school
    (3) An administrator in and chosen by the superintendent of the district or area vocational-technical school
    (4) A member of the local board, who must also chair the committee.

    At least two members must also be appointed by each participating postsecondary institution, and must include a faculty member representing a department with administrative authority over one or more approved concurrent courses. If three or more postsecondary institutions participate in the program, one member must be appointed by each institution.

    The committee is responsible for developing a written agreement between the school entity and the postsecondary institution(s), which may contain separate, individual agreements with each institution, presenting the agreement to the local board for approval, meeting at least quarterly to review the program, recommending changes to the program to the local board, and establishing criteria to allow students who do not otherwise meet the eligiblity requirements set by the committee, to enroll in the program.

    In addition, legislation specifies that upon request from a district or area vocational-technical school, the department of education must provide technical assistance in developing programs and agreements between secondary and postsecondary partners.

    Charter school, nonpublic, private and home school students may enroll in programs approved in their school district of residence.

    Early and middle college opportunities are limited by legislation that limits grants to these (plus Gateway to College, for returning dropouts) programs to 4% of all available funds.
    Tennessee State policy makes clear that early college programs must further state and/or regional economic development efforts, not just student achievement. Programs must:
    (1) Provide students with the opportunity to gain skills neeeded to secure high-skilled employment.
    (2) Allow students to complete a technical or academic program in a high-demand field that offers high wages.
    (3) Enable students completing the program to pass employer exams, if applicable.

    An application to establish an early college high school must include a "statement of how the program relates to the economic development of the region in which the program is to be located. Priority must be given to applications that "address the economic development needs of the regions in which they are located[.]"

    A private business or organization and/or the county legislative body (county board of commissioners) in the county in which the program is locatedmay participate in the development of an early college high school program. Such additional partners must jointly apply with the district and the postsecondary institution to establish an early college program.
    Texas Early college programs have flexibility in the number of hours a day or days a week a student attends, as long as courses meet the minimum number of instructional hours as required in state policy.

    Administrative rules may provide for giving admissions preference in early college programs to students who are first-generation college-goers.


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