Addressing College Completion Gaps Starts with Stable Funding

The Gateway Cities Journal

Addressing College Completion Gaps Starts with Stable Funding

This week MassINC issued a new report revisiting the promise of Early College as a transformational strategy to set students up for successful careers. Early College as a Force for Equity in the Post-Pandemic Era shows half of all Gateway City high schools now offer Early College pathways, yet these programs serve just 3 percent of students.

Since at least 2013, Gateway City education leaders have aspired to provide far more students with the opportunity to pursue Early College. Our painfully slow progress expanding access is especially disappointing given how helpful these programs have proven to be for students with college dreams.

Our report presents data tracking the first class of students to graduate from the state’s designated Early College high schools. These students are 53 percent more likely than their peers to enroll in college and remain enrolled for more than two semesters. This is extremely compelling evidence that Early College delivers in a big way, but the reality is it simply doesn’t matter how well these programs perform when they serve so few students.

As we’ve argued in the past, significantly expanding access to Early College requires stable funding—educators aren’t going to transform their schools and make promises to students without knowing that resources are firmly in place to deliver. On this score, we are moving in the right direction. The legislature’s steadfast support for the Student Opportunity Act gives high schools access to the dollars they will need to cover additional expenses incurred providing Early College students with extra advising, tutoring, and transportation.

The only remaining hurdle is stable funding for the colleges tasked with delivering the instruction. This week the House Committee on Ways and Means released a budget blueprint that includes an additional $1 million to cover these expenses. While this is a healthy increase from last year, it isn’t sufficient. More students are enrolling in Early Colleges and costs are rising accordingly. The Executive Office of Education estimates colleges will provide at least 37,000 credits next year. The funding level in the House budget would pay for just 22,000 credits.

Establishing a strong precedent of fully covering the costs of Early College as programs grow is critical to ensuring that communities and state government are aligned when it comes to executing on this strategic initiative. Representative Jeff Roy, the former chair of the higher education committee, has filed amendment 426 and amendment 428 to address the deficiency in the House budget proposal. He is joined by Representatives Peisch and Rogers, current chairs of the education and higher education committee, and Representative Lipper-Garabedian, who previously served in a leadership role at the Executive Office of Education. Support for Early College among these leaders shows a serious commitment in the legislative branch from a policy standpoint. In the coming days, Gateway City leaders must come together to build political support for these necessary amendments.

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