Early College checks a lot of boxes

Prepares students, yields big ROI, and addresses equity gaps

IF YOU WANT to know who and what our state lawmakers care about, you simply have to follow the money. Our state budget, after all, is a reflection of the values state lawmakers hold and a roadmap for the future they want to build for our Commonwealth.

Long ago, Massachusetts state leaders decided that we needed to build a knowledge-based economy that would propel our state into becoming a national leader on workforce and economic development. While Massachusetts state leaders have made investments to make us the most educated state, we know there is work to do to close gaps in education equity.

In fact, the state graduates White students from our higher education institutions at three times the rate of Latino students – despite the fact that Latino students are the fastest growing student population in our public school system and will make-up a significant share of our workforce.  As state lawmakers negotiate what will be included in the final budget, it’s incumbent to make significant investments in programs that close this attainment gap, and put Latino students on a path to pursue viable careers.

Fortunately, so-called Early College programs provide lawmakers with an opportunity to invest in something that can tackle long standing equity gaps in our education system, prepare students for college and prosperous careers, and give taxpayers a return on their investment.  We are calling on them to provide at least $9.9 million in the state budget to fund Early College programs.

When we launched the first Early College programs back in 2019, 1,140 students enrolled in these courses, which gave them the ability to earn both college and high school credit upon successful completion. That number grew to 2,512 students in 2020 and then again in 2021 to 2,864 students.  Sixty percent of these students were either Black (approximately 20 percent) or Latino (approximately 40 percent).

What this tells us is that if we invest and give Black and Latino students the opportunity to enroll in college courses even as early as ninth grade, they will not only do it, but they will thrive in these courses. Not only do these programs give students the opportunity to earn college credit, but they also pave career pathways for students to be successful in college.

We want to keep growing enrollment to serve 45,000 students by 2028, a goal a recent MassINC research report suggests is both achievable and large enough to make a meaningful contribution to efforts to reduce the large socioeconomic disparities in college completion. This requires fully funding dual enrollment grants.

The data also tells us that Massachusetts Early College students are 20 percentage points more likely to enroll in college immediately after high school graduation. These same students are also much more likely than their peers to persist to a second year of college: 59 percent of Early College graduates from the class of 2019 are still in college versus only 38 percent of their school peers. And they are twice as likely to complete their degrees.

By putting young Latinos into a college setting, it is creating a mindset that not only can they attend college, but they can attain a college degree. If our state lawmakers care about building a strong workforce, investing in Early College is a safe bet.

Not only is it a safe bet, it’s a cost effective one, too. For every $1 that the state invests in Early College, we see a return of $15. How did we calculate this ROI? Based on the outcomes we are seeing in early college students, we know they will see higher lifetime earnings and better health outcomes, will contribute a larger share to our tax system, and will be less likely to rely on government programs.  No other intervention to increase college completion produces this large a return on public investment.

Meet the Author

Juana Matias

Chief operating officer, MassINC
Meet the Author

Manny Cruz

Massachusetts advocacy director, Latinos for Education
State legislators have the opportunity to address their concerns around racial equity by ensuring our final state budget includes investments in racial equity work. Investing in Early College is one way to deliver on that.

Juana Matias is chief operating officer of MassINC and Manny Cruz is director of advocacy at Latinos for Education.