Early College creates pathways to higher education

This data story highlights insights from the Early College Data Dashboard on student participation and college credits earned by semester, school, and partnership. It describes the program and goals and features two Early College Designated Partnerships, in the Worcester Public Schools and New Heights Charter School of Brockton.

Early College Data Dashboard

Explore the dashboard for data on student participation in Early College Designated Programs, credits they registered for, and credits earned. Select the tabs at the top of the dashboard to view data by student group and trends over time. For best viewing, open the dashboard in a new window.

Key Takeaways

Dashboard graph shows growth in Early College partners, fall 2020-2023.
Dashboard graph shows growth in Early College participation, fall 2021-2023.
  • Early College is expanding. The number of participating high schools increased from 31 to 57 between the fall of 2020 and 2023, while student participation more than doubled from fall of 2021 and 2023.
  • With three new partnerships announced in March 2024 and another two approved in June, 55 designated partnerships are expected to serve more than 9,000 Massachusetts high school students in 2024-2025.
  • A majority of Early College participants registered for at least one college course per semester. Since the fall of 2022, the credit passing rate has slightly increased from 85% to 88%.
Dashboard detail shows increase in credit passing rate from fall 2022 to spring 2023.
Early College prioritizes participation by students historically underrepresented in higher education. In the fall of 2023:
  • 41% of participants were Hispanic or Latinx, compared to 25% of the statewide high school student population
  • 18% of participants were Black, compared to 10% of students statewide
Dashboard bar chart shows fall 2023 participants by race/ethnicity
  • 58% of Early College participants were in low-income households

Dashboard bar chart shows Fall 2023 Early College participation by income status

What is Early College?

Early College provides an opportunity for high school students, particularly those historically underrepresented in higher education, to complete at least 12 college credits in a supported, guided academic pathway while still enrolled in and supported by their high school.
Early College serves more students in a more comprehensive way, differentiating it from other dual enrollment programs. It builds in the on-ramping, skill-building, and “college knowledge” students need to build a pathway to higher education.
Participating high schools and their partners in higher education work together to provide dual-credit college-level courses along with the requisite materials, college preparation, advising, and academic support needed to succeed — at no cost to the students or their families.
Early College was established in Massachusetts in January 2017 as a joint initiative of the boards of Elementary and Secondary Education and Higher Education. They outlined five guiding principles:
  • Promote equitable access
  • Create guided academic pathways
  • Provide enhanced student support
  • Make connections to career
  • Foster effective partnerships
The Early College Joint Committee, with members from both boards including the Secretary of Education, steers the program.
Nationally, the Early College High School Initiative (ECHSI) was established in 2002. Early college programs have expanded rapidly nationwide over the past two decades.
This interactive map marks locations of Early College programs nationally. Hover over a colored dot on the map to reveal the designation and school model, program/school name, and zip code. Select the left facing arrow at the bottom of the map to reset. Source: American Institutes for Research

Why is it important?

Early College provides students across the Commonwealth with expanded access to institutions of higher education. By prioritizing communities with high populations of historically underrepresented students, it may open doors for students who never considered college as an option. Participating students benefit from a free and accelerated path to completing a college degree and exposure to a variety of career opportunities.
Growing the state’s college-educated workforce is an economic priority. Population trends and outmigration indicate Massachusetts will experience a shortage of skilled workers. The nonpartisan research organization MassINC estimates the state’s working-age college-educated population will fall by approximately 192,000 residents, or 10%, by 2030. (MassINC, 2023)
Early College has been identified as a promising initiative to narrow educational gaps and increase college completion. Research from other states has shown that Early College students are more likely to enroll in college and complete a postsecondary degree within six years of graduating high school. (AIR, 2019)
Early College has had a significant effect on enrollment in Massachusetts public colleges and universities. While overall enrollment in the public postsecondary system increased in fall 2023 for the first time after a decade of declines, the enrollment of Early College students has been steadily increasing year after year since the program launched in the fall of 2018. Early College and dual enrollment students represent a growing share of all undergraduate students at Massachusetts public institutions, rising from 3% in fall 2018 to 8% in fall 2023.
The visualization above shows the increase in dual enrollment and Early College students at Massachusetts community colleges, state universities and UMass campuses from 2009 to 2023. Hover over the graph for additional information. Source: Massachusetts Department of Higher Education analysis of data from the Massachusetts Higher Education Information Resource System (HEIRS)

Equity Lens

With the opportunity to earn at least 12 college credits while still in high school, Early College students can complete a degree with less time and cost. This helps narrow the opportunity gap for students in low-income households and students of historically underserved communities and groups.
Students in low-income households comprised 58% of Early College participants in fall 2023, up from 54% a year prior.
The dashboard detail, Program Participation by Semester, shows the number of Early College participants in low-income households (yellow line) increasing faster than students who are not low income (pink line) since fall 2022.
Dashboard detail shows trends among participants in low income status and not low income status from fall 2021-23.

How are schools implementing Early College?

Designated Early College Partnerships are designed to meet the needs of students in a school or community and can look quite different across the state. Partnerships include at least one public high school or public charter school and at least one public or private institution of higher education. They may be set up as an Early College cohort within a larger school or as a wall-to-wall program where all students are enrolled in Early College. Two programs are highlighted here.

Early College Worcester

The state’s largest Early College partnership provides students at all seven high schools in the Worcester Public Schools with access to college courses at both Quinsigamond Community College and Worcester State University. Established in 2018 with about 100 students, Early College Worcester has grown to serve 923 students in fall 2023. This partnership accounts for more than 10% of Early College participants statewide.
Screenshot of the participation detail for Early College Worcester, Fall 2023.
The dashboard view shows the participation detail for Worcester's seven public high schools in the fall of 2023.
Early College Worcester stands out for its flexibility in design and close communication among partners. The program is open to all Worcester Public School students, grades 9-12, regardless of GPA. Students can take classes at either institution in fall, spring, and summer sessions, and choose among college classes offered within the high schools during the school day. A mentorship program connects high school participants with college students who help them navigate the college experience.
The Early College Worcester team meets weekly to plan and review programs. The team is working to increase participation in the program, expand course offerings to meet student needs, and to support guidance counselors who are preparing and advising students for Early College.
They use data to:
  • Compare participation to school enrollment numbers to identify gaps by gender, race and ethnicity. Participation has skewed heavily female, for example, though the gap narrowed by about 5 percentage points in fall 2023.
  • Break down participation by school and grade for a detailed picture of where to focus recruitment. In fall 2023, more seniors participated in Early College Worcester than all other grades combined. In response, the team has planned summer sessions on the college campuses and a “First Year Experience” course to orient rising 9th and 10th graders. 
  • Look at course-taking trends to evaluate and expand offerings. Students may select from a variety of college courses offered at their high school site and both college campuses. Advisors help students connect the courses to college or career Pathways.

New Heights Charter School of Brockton

This Brockton public charter school, serving students in grades 6-12, operates a wall-to-wall Early College program in partnership with Massasoit Community College. This means nearly all of the approximately 400 students in grades 9-12 participate in Early College. Close to 100% earn 12 college credits or more, and more than half earn associate's degrees or at least 60 college credits by their high school graduation.
Dashboard view of New Height Charter School of Brockton for Spring 2023, the last semester for which credit information is available.
The dashboard view shows New Heights' Early College program overview for spring 2023, the most recent semester for which credit information is available. New Heights had 386 students in the Early College program in the spring of 2023. In total, they registered for 2,073 credits—a quarter of students registered for 10 or more — and achieved a 94% passing rate.
As a public charter school, admission to New Heights is lottery-based. Its student population is 86.8% Black or African American, 7.3% percent Hispanic or Latinx, and 4.2% multi-racial, non-Hispanic. Three out of four students are identified as high needs, 17.1% are English learners, and 11.6% identify as having disabilities.
Participation and passing rates among English learners and special education students are a particular point of distinction for the New Heights program.
  • 80% of English learners (New Heights uses the term multi-language learners or MLL) in the Class of 2023 graduated with 12 or more college credits, while 40% accumulated 30 or more credits, and 20% earned 60-plus.
  • 40 students with disabilities registered for 84 college credits and achieved an 85% passing rate.
The bar chart measures the percent of New Heights' Class of 2023 that graduated and accrued 12 or more, 30 or more, and 60 or more college credits, disaggregated by special education and multi-language learner student groups. Source: New Heights Charter School of Brockton
Bar chart shows achievements of New Heights' Class of 2023
To achieve these outcomes, college preparation begins in grade 6. New Heights doubles up on math and ELA in the middle school class schedule to help build the academic foundations for college-level coursework, along with history, science, and electives. Many students begin taking one to two college courses per semester in 9th and 10th grades and become full-time college students in their junior and senior years.
But the on-ramp is different for each student. The New Heights Early College team uses internal data on academic achievement, maturity level, and executive functioning skills to evaluate each student’s readiness for college. Students enrolled in college courses at Massasoit also take companion courses at New Heights on alternate days to reinforce lessons, allow more time for assignments, and provide extra support. A Multi-Tiered System of Support identifies students for individualized goal setting, monitoring, and interventions.

Where can I find an Early College program?

Use the Massachusetts School Finder to search for schools near you that offer Early College.
Early College is one of four State Designated Pathways supported by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to prepare students for success after high school. Other Pathways include:
  • Career Technical Education, vocational technical programs offering at least 900 hours of immersive coursework and work-based learning
  • Career Connections, a series of two or three courses plus work-based learning experiences in a specific industry or field
  • Innovation Career Pathways, a 100-hour internship or capstone experience and two AP or dual enrollment courses related to continued study in an industry or field
Select a school on the Massachusetts Pathways Mapping tool to see which Pathways programs are in proximity.

What's next for Early College?

Recently, the state’s Early College program underwent a strategic review, and policy recommendations are forthcoming. The Office of Early College is working with the American Institutes for Research to more fully integrate both qualitative and quantitative data into the processes for designation, program reviews, and redesignation application requirements. This work includes analyses from the Early College dashboard data on enrollment, demographics and credit completion, plus longer-term outcomes such as college matriculation and degree attainment, all of which can be disaggregated to ensure underrepresented students are able to achieve the same outcomes as their peers.
The Early College dashboard will continue to iterate. For example, longitudinal data on student outcomes in Massachusetts, including college enrollment and persistence after high school graduation, will be added to the dashboard later in 2024.

Tips for using the dashboard

  • Use the dropdown menus to select a semester and one, multiple or all partner K-12 schools and institutes of higher education (IHE)
  • Start typing in the search fields to quickly find a school or institution
  • Results are not shown if there are fewer than 6 students in a selected group, to protect student privacy
  • "Institution where credits are earned" shows where a student earned credits, which is sometimes at the designated partner school but also includes credits earned at other institutions if a student took classes outside the designed partnership


Forman, Ben and Simone Ngongi-Lukula. “Early College as a Scalable Solution to the Looming Workforce Crisis.” MassINC, May 2023.
Lundy, Kasia and Chris Librizzi. “Breaking Down Silos to Put Students on the Path to Success: The promise of early college in Massachusetts.” Parthenon-EY Education practice, December 2016.
Song, Mengli and Kristina L. Zeiser. "Early College, Continued Success: Longer-Term Impact of Early College High Schools." American Institutes for Research, September 2019.
By Danielle Kane, June 27, 2024

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