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Early College High School Model

An Early College High School offers enrolled students an opportunity to earn an associate degree or up to 2 years of college credits toward a bachelor’s degree during high school at no or low cost to the students. Often described as “small schools that blur the line between high school and college,” the model is designed to enable students to take college courses while still receiving support from high school staff. Many early college models target students who are traditionally underrepresented in postsecondary education, including minority students, students from low-income families, and students who are in the first generation of their families to go to college.

The early college is a comprehensive school reform model that focuses explicitly and purposefully on preparing all of its students for college. Core design principles include: 1) partnering with colleges and universities for enrolled high school students to take college courses; 2) providing opportunities to take college-level courses to all students, not only those who are academically advanced – with some models specifically focusing on dropouts or students at-risk of dropping out of high school; 3) giving students a wide variety of academic and social supports, including personalized relationships; academic tutoring; advising; help with study skills, time management, self-advocacy, and other college “life skills;” and college preparation. In addition, early colleges provide students with supports in the formal transition to college, such as assistance in completing college applications and financial aid forms. Some early colleges also have other design principles for adults in the school (for example, professional development focused on a common vision and a collaborative, learning environment for staff).

Blueprints has certified two studies evaluating Early College High School Model.

Haxton et al. (2016) and Song & Zeiser (2019) conducted a multisite randomized controlled trial using lottery assignments. The study recruited from a five-state sample of 17 lotteries across 10 schools and 3 cohorts of students entering high school in 2005-06, 2006-07, and 2007-08, which resulted in a sample size of 2,458 students. Participants were followed to six years after expected high school graduation. Students participating in the intervention were more likely than those in the control group to enroll in any college, enroll in a 2-year college, and earn a college credential within 2 years and within 6 years of expected high school graduation. They were also more likely to earn a certificate, an associate degree, or a bachelor’s degree within 6 years of expected high school graduation.

Edmunds et al. (2017, 2020) conducted another multisite randomized controlled trial with lottery assignments. This single-state study included 20 cohorts of students who applied to one of 19 early colleges and enrolled in ninth grade from the 2005-06 to 2010-11 school years. The sample of 4,054 students was followed to six years after completion of 12th grade. Compared with the control group, intervention students were more likely to enroll in postsecondary education (2 years after high school graduation), attain a postsecondary degree (within 2 and 6 years after graduation), and attain an associate degree (6 years after the end of grade 12).


Edmunds, J. A., Unlu, F., Furey, J., Glennie, E., & Arshavsky, N. (2020). What happens when you combine high school and college? The impact of the early college model on postsecondary performance and completion. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 42(2), 257-278.

Edmunds, J. A., Unlu, F., Glennie, E., Bernstein, L., Fesler, L., Furey, J., & Arshavsky, N. (2017). Smoothing the transition to postsecondary education: The impact of the early college model. Journal of Research on Educational Effectiveness, 10(2), 297-325.

Haxton, C., Song, M., Zeiser, K., Berger, A., Turk-Bicakci, L., Garet, M. S., . . . Hoshen, G. (2016). Longitudinal findings from the Early College High School Initiative Impact Study. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 38(2), 410-430.

Song, M., & Zeiser, K. (2019). Early college, continued success: Longer-term impact of early college high schools. Washington, DC: American Institutes for Research.

Read the Program Fact Sheet.


Blueprints for Healthy Youth Development
University of Colorado Boulder
Institute of Behavioral Science
UCB 483, Boulder, CO 80309


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Blueprints for Healthy Youth Development is
currently funded by Arnold Ventures (formerly the Laura and John Arnold Foundation) and historically has received funding from the Annie E. Casey Foundation and the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.