Early Colleges/Middle Colleges

Early Colleges/Middle Colleges

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, etc.), 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.

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.

This database provides information on:

1. Brief profiles of state policies: Seven states have state-level policies providing a comprehensive structure for the creation and administration of early and/or middle college high schools. Six states have explicit policies to administer early college high schools, while four states have explicit policies to administer middle college programs.

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.

2. Who may establish (charter, LEA, etc.): In seven states, a district or LEA may establish an early or middle college high school. In Colorado, only certain districts with pre-existing agreements or graduation rates below 75% in 2004-2005 are authorized to establish an early college high school. In Pennsylvania, an area vocational-technical school may serve as the K-12 partner to establish an early or middle college high school.

Why does it matter?
  • The level of flexibility in who is allowed to authorize may impact the number of programs that start up.

3. Unique characteristics: ECS identified 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.

4. Funding mechanisms: Six of the states provide funding to early/middle colleges equal to the funding amounts provided to traditional high schools in every circumstance. Five of the states provide an equal amount of funding for students enrolled in an early/middle college program and for students enrolled in a traditional higher education program. Four states mandate that early/middle college students not be charged for tuition costs.

Why does it matter?
  • Low-income and otherwise at-risk students are normally the target population for early and middle college participation. These students are less likely to be able to afford any related tuition, and such a requirement could easily dissuade students from being involved in such programs
  • Districts that can be reassured that they will not lose significant funding for students who participate in early/middle colleges might be more open to publicizing such programs.
  • Participating postsecondary-level institutions should not pay out of pocket for expenses incurred.
  • For any early/middle college program to be effective, it needs to have a steady and predictable source of funding.

5. Student eligibility requirements: Five states specify that students may enter programs beginning in grade 9. Two states specify academic conditions students must meet, either to enter or to continue in early and middle college programs.

Why does it matter?
  • Because early/middle colleges are geared to serving at-risk students, setting additional requirements may deter participation among the very youth such programs are intended to serve.

6. Whether early/middle colleges target specific programs or student groups: North Carolina and Tennessee require early college high school programs to lead to advanced programs or employment opportunities in engineering, health sciences, or teaching, while Michigan provides state grant support for programs focused on health sciences. California, North Carolina, Tennessee and Texas specify that programs must target students who are at risk of dropping out.

Why does it matter?
  • At-risk students benefit from earning a credential that will allow them to apply for high-demand, high-paying jobs with career potential.

7. Whether programs must offer student counseling/support: Five states require early/middle college high school programs to provide students with guidance and/or mentoring.

Why does it matter?
  • Just getting into the program isn't enough — students need continued guidance as they progress year by year.

8. Whether students/parents must be notified of early/middle college opportunities: Two states require districts to notify students and/or parents of the availability of local early or middle college high school programs.

Why does it matter?
  • You can't go if you don't know.
  • Traditionally underserved students who are the target population of early and middle college high school programs are generally less connected in the school community, and consequently less likely to be aware of programs that can benefit them.

9. Whether college partners can be two-year/four-year institutions/both: Six states allow two- and four-year institutions to serve as postsecondary partners in early/middle college high school programs. Three states authorize private postsecondary institutions to participate in early/middle college partnerships.

Why does it matter?
  • Including four-year institutions increases the likelihood that credits will be accepted should a student choose to transfer into a four-year program.
  • Many community college personnel are experienced at catching up students who are behind.

10. Where courses are provided: Two states allow early college high school programs to be based at a school within a school, a technical high school, or on a postsecondary campus. One state specifies that only community college campuses may host middle college programs. One state offers early college high school courses online. Four states do not specify locations at which early and middle college programs may be established.

Why does it matter?
  • Programs on postsecondary campuses are good exposure, especially for students who would be the first in their family to attend college.

11. Whether programs may award associate's degrees: Five states authorize early or middle college programs to grant associate's degrees. Four states allow early or middle college programs to offer students the opportunity to complete technical certification programs.

Why does it matter?
  • Having a credential matters. For underserved students who might not have earned an associate's degree otherwise, early college high schools provide a key opportunity.

12. Whether public postsecondary institutions are required to accept credits: Two states require all public two- and four-year institutions in the state to accept credits earned through an early college high school program.

Why does it matter?
  • Early/middle college programs will not live up to their potential if students are forced to repeat courses upon admission to another postsecondary institution.

13. Special teacher/faculty preparation requirements: No state has established in policy that all early/middle college high school instructors must complete specialized preparation requirements. In practice, however, some programs may require instructors to undergo such training.

Why does it matter?
  • Educators not used to teaching underserved students will benefit from training in using real-world applications, and identifying and addressing specific areas of need.

14. Evaluative components: Five states have evaluation requirements in place for early/middle colleges.

Why does it matter?
  • Even good policy and programs can improve when leaders insist on monitoring of outcomes, recalibration and improving alignment.

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: July 31, 2008

This database was primarily compiled by Jennifer Dounay, project manager, ECS High School Policy Center. For questions, additions or corrections: 303.299.3689 or jdounay@ecs.org. Finance data compiled by Michael Griffith, senior policy analyst. For questions, additions or corrections: 303.299.3619 or mgriffith@ecs.org.

North Carolina

Early Colleges/Middle Colleges
Brief profile of state policy 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.
Who may establish (charter, LEA, etc.) LEA and at least one local board of trustees (of a community college, "constituent institution of the University of North Carolina, or private college located in North Carolina.")
Unique characteristics 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.
Funding mechanism(s)

State funding for secondary schools: Each program is treated as an individual high school for funding purposes, even if it is located at another high school, or at a two- or four-year institution.

Tuition: Community colleges must waive tuition for early college high school students. Early college students at a four-year institution are responsible for their own tuition and fees.

State funding for postsecondary schools:

Taught in Association with a Community College: If a community college has contracted with a school district to operate a cooperative innovative high school program (CIHS) and uses community college faculty to teach a dual credit course, the community college receives full state funding for the course. If the community college uses high school teachers to teach the course, the community college receives a state reimbursement equal to the direct cost of the course plus 15%.

Taught in Association with a Public Four-Year Institution: If a University of North Carolina (UNC) professor teaches the course, the institution may claim funding from the state. If the course is taught by a high school teacher, the institution does not receive state funding.
In addition, programs are to "[e]ffectively utilize existing funding sources for high school, college, university and vocational programs and actively pursue new funding from other sources." Likewise, the local board of education and the local board of trustees "are strongly encouraged to seek funds from sources other than state, federal and local appropriations," and are "strongly encouraged to seek funds the Education Cabinet identifies or obtains under G.S. 116C-4." A program "may use state, federal or local funds allocated to the local school unit, to the applicable governing board, and to the college or university to implement the program." If the program has the local county board of commissioners as an "education partner," "the program may use state, federal and local funds allocated to that body." Even if not an education partner, the local county board of commissioners may nevertheless appropriate funds to an early college high school program.

Student eligibility requirements Grade level: Min. grade 9
Academic: The selection committee for each University of North Carolina (UNC)-based early college program must base selection decisions on "academic credentials" and other factors (see "Other" below). In addition, before enrolling in a UNC university-level course, "students must demonstrate readiness to succeed in these courses." A standard measure of readiness is determined by each early college and university.
Other: Determined by the local district and the postsecondary partner's board of trustees. Selection of students for early colleges on UNC campuses is made by a selection committee that must include "local public school officials, university academic affairs officials, university student affairs officials and college officials. Selection must be based on academic credentials, disciplinary records, potential of successful completion of high school [and] university course requirements and potential for contribution to the intellectual and social strength of the college environment."
Targets specific programs or student groups Programmatic: Engineering, health sciences, teaching
Student groups: Must target students at risk of dropping out or students "who would benefit from accelerated academic instruction."
Student counseling/support component Yes. Programs must "provide consistent counseling, advising and parent conferencing so that parents and students can make responsible decisions regarding course taking and can track students' academic progress and success."
Students/parents must be notified of early college/middle college opportunities No. There is no requirement that all parents and prospective students must be notified, although programs must "develop methods for early identification of potential participating students in the middle grades and through high school." Programs must, as part of their proposal, develop a plan for student selection and recruitment; the North Carolina New Schools Project stresses the importance of recruitment in gaining the participation of first-generation college-goers and free- and reduced-lunch students.
College partners can be two-year/four-year/both Both (public and private four-year institutions, community colleges)
Where courses provided Programs may be provided in "a school within a school, a technical high school, or a high school or technical center located on the campus of a college or university." If the program includes a partnership with a private business or organization or the county board of commissioners in the county in which the program is located, the program may be operated there, as well.

If a University of North Carolina (UNC) system institution is the postsecondary partner, the early college must be located on the university campus.

In addition, the Learn and Earn Online program makes the program available to students in participating high schools. Learn and Earn Online high schools are in addition to those that have bricks-and-mortar Learn and Earn programs.
Program may award associate's degrees


Notes/Citation: Programs must allow students to earn "a high school diploma in less than four years, to begin or complete an associate degree program, to master a certificate or vocational program, or to earn up to two years of college credit."

Public postsecondary institutions required to accept credits Yes. Learn and Earn and Learn and Earn Online courses are covered by the Comprehensive Articulation Agreement (CAA). As such, academic core courses completed with a "C" or better through an associate's degree program will be recognized across the North Carolina Community College System and the 16 UNC institutions.
Special teacher/faculty preparation requirements No. However, programs must "[e]ncourage the use of different and innovative teaching methods." Program applications must describe the "qualifications required for individuals employed in the program."
Evaluative component Yes. The state board of education and postsecondary governing boards (the state board of community colleges, the board of governors of the University of North Carolina, board of the North Carolina Independent Colleges and Universities) must evaluate the success of students in early college high schools, as measured by:
(1) High school retention rates
(2) High school completion rates
(3) High school dropout rates
(4) Certification and associate degree completion
(5) Admission to four-year institutions
(6) Postgraduation employment in career or study-related fields
(7) Employer satisfaction of employees who participated in and graduated from programs.

The boards must jointly report each year to the joint legislative education oversight committee on the evaluation of these programs.

Brief profile: North Carolina New Schools Project Web site
Who may establish: N.C. GEN. STAT. § 115C-238.50A and 115C-238.51
Unique characteristics: N.C. GEN. STAT. § 115C-238.51 and 115C-238.52; North Carolina Department of Public Instruction Learn and Earn Online Web page; EARN Grants Web page
Funding mechanism: N.C. GEN. STAT. § 115C-238.50(a)(10), -238.53(e) and -238.54; Secondary schools: N.C. GEN. STAT. § 115C-238.54(a); Tuition: N.C. GEN. STAT. § 115D-5(b), UNC Policy 400.6.1[R]; Postsecondary funding: N.C. GEN. STAT. § 115D-41, University of North Carolina "Student Credit Hour Enrollment Change Funding Model" manual
Eligibility requirements: N.C. GEN. STAT. § 115C-238.50(f), University of North Carolina Policy Manual, section 400.6.1
Population targeted: N.C. GEN. STAT. § 115C-238.50(a)(1) and (2) and (d)(3)
Counseling/support: N.C. GEN. STAT. § 115C-238.50(b)(6)
Notification: N.C. GEN. STAT. § 115C-238.50(b)(10); Carolyn White, Director, Learn and Earn, North Carolina New Schools Project
College partners: N.C. GEN. STAT. § 115C-238.50A, 116-2(4)
Where courses provided: N.C. GEN. STAT. § 115C-238.50(e); University of North Carolina Policy Manual, section 400.6.1; Learn and Earn Online Web site
Associate's degrees: N.C. GEN. STAT. § 115C-238.50(d)(2) University of North Carolina Policy Manual, sections 400.6 and 400.6.1
Postsecondary institutions required to accept credits: Comprehensive Articulation Agreement Between the University of North Carolina and the North Carolina Community College System, revised June 2008
Teacher/faculty requirements: Carolyn White, Director, Learn and Earn, North Carolina New Schools Project; NC. GEN. STAT. § 115C-238.50(b)(8), -238.51(b)(9)
Evaluative component: N.C. GEN. STAT. § 115C-238.55

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