Massachusetts is known for high standards in education. Recently, there has been increased focus on providing a diverse offering of post-secondary educational opportunities. As a result, high schools and colleges throughout Massachusetts have partnered to provide the opportunity for high school students to earn college credits free of cost through Early College Programs.
Early College Programs were introduced in the 1960's to engage and challenge high-achieving high school students with college coursework. This model was revised in the early 2000's to focus on the most underserved and least prepared student populations, resulting in an influx of this targeted group going on to complete a college degree. In 2002, the Early College High School Initiative was launched by the Gates Foundation, to provide funds to cover the cost of college courses, reducing the overall cost of college degree completion. The success of these programs provided a viable alternative to a traditional path to college with a high percentage of participating students enrolled in college before high school graduation.
The benefits of taking advantage of an Early College Program are numerous: combining traditional high school classes with college courses allows the student to fulfill high school graduation requirements while earning college credits at the same time free of cost, resulting in significant overall savings in the cost of higher education. Students gain experience in taking college-level courses, align to a particular path, and are more apt to continue to earn a degree. Participation has also proven to be an advantage, as it increases the number of students arriving on a college campus prepared for college-level courses, therefore increasing the retention rate.
Although the Gates Foundation did not fund high schools in Massachusetts, it did inspire the expansion of existing Early College Programs within colleges and high schools to form a broader Early College Initiative statewide. The Massachusetts Early College Initiative was launched in 2018, initially consisting of 8 programs in high-need districts offering participation to minority and first-generation college students.
As Early College Programs continue to prove to be an advantage and aid in post-secondary readiness and success of students, the number of programs continues to rise across Massachusetts. Currently, 42 high schools and 31 colleges and universities are partnered to offer these programs with a projection of nearly 4,000 students participating in the 2021-22 academic year. MEFA Pathway, our college and career planning portal for Massachusetts students, showcases the colleges and universities that participate in an Early College Program. Students can find that information on the MEFA Pathway College Search page, College List page, College Compare chart, and College Cost Calculator. Students can click on the Early College Program text on any of these pages to be brought to a complete list of participating colleges. And to find out if your high school participates in an Early College Program, check with your school counselor.