Gateway Cities Look to Fuel Early College Expansion in the FY 23 State Budget

The Gateway Cities Journal

Wednesday marked another milestone for Gateway City Early College expansion efforts with New Bedford High among four new programs receiving official state designations. This news is linked to the legislature’s decision to double funding for Early College in the FY 2022 budget. With this fuel for growth, new programs are launching and others are expanding all across the state. Last spring, Massachusetts had fewer than 3,900 high school students participating in Early College. Today there are more than 5,400.

The legislature’s embrace of Early College could not have come at a more critical moment. The pandemic delt a heavy blow to the college aspirations of Gateway City students. The ongoing impact is evident in FAFSA completion, a leading indicator of how many high school seniors will likely attend college in the fall. In 2021, the first full year of pandemic disruption, the number of Gateway City seniors submitting their federal financial aid paperwork by January 31st fell by 16 percent. This January 31st FAFSA submissions were still 14 percent below pre-pandemic levels.

Make no mistake, Early College students are also feeling the strain, but the additional support they receive is clearly helping them stay on course. So far 57 percent of Early College seniors have completed FAFSA applications, a mark that roughly matches pre-pandemic levels at this point in the college application season.

When the Gateway City Legislative Caucus convened on Monday to review FY 23 budget priorities, additional funding for Early College made their short list. Gateway City leaders will not be on their own making the case for doubling down on state investment. A recent survey by the MassINC Polling Group found 87 percent of Massachusetts voters support increasing state funding for Early College. Like their constituents, legislators from communities across the commonwealth recognize how investing in Early College can reduce opportunity gaps and help Massachusetts grow a skilled workforce.

A new statewide alliance has formed to help communities provide students with more high-quality Early College experiences. The alliance is calling for increasing the Dual Enrollment line item (7066-0019) to $9 million in FY 23, the full amount state officials estimate will be necessary to cover higher education costs with a growing number of students in Early College. In addition, the alliance seeks $10 million for the Early College line item (7009-6600). This account funds startup and expansion grants, technical assistance, other direct supports to high schools, and program administration.

Fully funding these two line items is essential to meet growing student demand for high-quality Early College programs, and, equally important, to produce the large increases in Gateway City postsecondary completion rates that a full-scale Early College initiative can deliver.

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