Early College is a beacon for Gateway City progress

The Gateway Cities Journal

Early College is a beacon for Gateway City progress

As we embark on this new year and new legislative session, we mark an important anniversary: 10 years ago Mayors Kim Driscoll and Lisa Wong brought Gateway City leaders together to craft the Gateway Cities Vision for Dynamic Community-Wide Learning Systems. From expanding access to early education to building comprehensive student support systems, the shared blueprint for innovation harnessed and focused our energy on key strategies. There have been many notable gains on this education agenda over the past 10 years, but Early College expansion is foremost among them.

In the 2013 vision, Gateway City leaders singled out Early College as a promising approach to propel students through higher education and into successful careers. Massachusetts launched a formal Early College initiative in 2017, providing resources and standards that have helped more than half of all Gateway City high schools create Early College programs. With support from partners, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) devised a strong evaluation protocol to evaluate the impact of the initiative.

This evaluation strategy has proven to be essential to the overall success of Early College. The ability to follow students through high school and into college allows us to demonstrate that the approach is working for each cohort of students moving through the program. Legislators are responding to the hard numbers, providing large funding increases several years in a row to seed and accommodate additional growth. The data are also winning more and more support among education, workforce development, and business groups.

As we describe in a new research brief, the most recent figures are the most impressive yet. They show Early College is doubling the odds that students continue on to higher education immediately after high school and persist to a second year. It is reassuring to see Early College is achieving the gains that we had hoped for a decade ago, despite the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, but we still have miles to go.

While Early College programs have grown dramatically in recent years, they currently only serve about 5,400 students in grades 9 through 12 each year. To disrupt inequality and contribute meaningfully to economic development, expansion efforts must succeed in reaching upwards of 45,000 students annually. This will require even more data and analysis to ensure that our path to this scale maintains strong results and that there are no unintended consequences, as Early College reshapes high schools and public higher education across the state.

MassINC has always seen the effort to help Gateway Cities realize their full potential as a multi-decade undertaking. We have the patience and resolve to see this work through, but we are increasingly learning that we lack the data. From housing production and minority-business ownership to criminal justice and public safety, too often we make and implement public policy without sufficient information to chart our way. By demonstrating the data discipline we must adopt for all of our important endeavors, Early College offers a beacon for Gateway City progress.

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