Future Ready News

Expanding Opportunities: Looking at Supporting Early College Programming

For first generation and underrepresented students, early college is an opportunity to engage in college-level work, to develop a deeper understanding of the college experience, and to envision themselves as college students. As postsecondary education becomes increasingly necessary to participate in a 21st century economy, early college has the potential to close the educational attainment gap between advantaged and disadvantaged youth. Early college opportunities can increase all students’ ability to engage in an economically viable educational and career pathway.

Most high schools in Massachusetts offer some form of early college programming that supports college credit accumulation through initiatives such as Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, and articulated coursework. Massachusetts high schools also collaborate with higher education institutions to provide college courses in which students earn both high school and college credit (dual enrollment). Some high schools offer a comprehensive early college experience, where students engage in early college career pathway models that integrate a high school and college sequence of academic and career-focused coursework, including work-based learning experiences, leading to a specific degree in a particular industry or field.

Early college programming incorporates credit-bearing college coursework into the high school experience to support an increased number of students graduating from high school and going on to earn a postsecondary credential. While dual enrollment is the foundation for all early college programs, additional programming elements are necessary to implement a comprehensive early college model with a focus on a particular industry or field.



The Rennie Center put together an issue brief, Early College Designs: Achieving College- and Career-Readiness for All. This report highlights innovative Massachusetts programs offering pathways to college that allow students to pursue a postsecondary credential even before earning a high school diploma. Early college designs—which allow students to earn both high school and college credits simultaneously—are among the most effective strategies for promoting higher rates of postsecondary access, persistence, and completion. In its new report, part of the Roadmap to Expanding Opportunity series of issue briefs, the Rennie Center identifies three effective models of early college programs and compiles cost estimates for replicating these models in other districts. See recent coverage of the report release in The Atlantic and the National Journal, as well as a Letter to the Editor published in the Boston Globe.

Complimentary to this report, the MA Department of Elementary and Secondary Education reissued its report on early college programming, the Massachusetts Landscape of Early College. This report highlights several early college models throughout the Commonwealth and clarifies the common components found in this type of programming.  In Massachusetts, there is a unique mix of early college programming available to students.  Most recently the Commonwealth commissioned a study with Parthenon to look closer at this landscape.

The Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education and the Massachusetts Board of Higher Education met on January 24, 2017 to discuss the implementation of what could be a sea change in the early college landscape.  On that date, both Boards resolved to create a Massachusetts Early College Designation.


​This post was produced by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, a collaborative partner of Future Ready Massachusetts.