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The Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education

Early College Programming in Massachusetts

Members of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education and the Board of Higher Education
Mitchell D. Chester, Ed.D., DESE Commissioner
Carlos E. Santiago, Ph.D., DHE Commissioner
January 15, 2016



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)1. 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.

While a number of key elements are necessary to develop and implement a comprehensive early college program, the foundation of all early college programming is high school students earning both secondary and college credits simultaneously. This opportunity connects students with a college learning experience, access to information about college-going criteria, and supports students in becoming college and career ready. Thus, high school students graduate with transferrable college credits which should ease their transition to an associate or bachelor's degree of their choice.

Massachusetts is one of only three states in the nation that does not have state-level policies on dual enrollment. Access to dual enrollment courses varies across the Commonwealth and has been limited due to funding. There are also several programmatic and logistical differences that affect program availability. Programming varies by size, focus, how instructors are paid, who teaches the courses (high school vs. higher education faculty), and if the college credit obtained transfers towards a major. The Commonwealth's financial support for dual enrollment has fluctuated since the mid-1990s and has never provided enough funding to allow for extensive, more equitable access of dual enrollment courses for students across the Commonwealth or for the scaling up of successful early college programs. Currently, funding for these programs depends on local partners using a combination of federal grants, state funds, and local school and college campus budgets to develop and sustain programming.

Defining Early College

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. These elements include:

  1. Identifying an industry sector
  2. Establishing high school and college partnerships
  3. Aligning high school and college curricula
  4. Offering college credits (dual enrollment)
  5. Engaging employers and integrating career development education
  6. Supporting students academically and non-academically

The Massachusetts Landscape of Early College (enclosed; see page 5) describes the entire spectrum of early college models found throughout the Commonwealth. For all students, particularly 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. Early college programs can help students compress the amount of time necessary to complete high school and either an associate or a bachelor's degree, while experiencing career-related activities in a particular field or industry.

Next Steps

Through Commissioner Santiago's leadership, the Department of Higher Education (DHE) is currently constituting and will soon convene the Dual and Concurrent Enrollment Advisory Group (DCEAG) to help develop a policy framework that will allow students greater access to dual and concurrent enrollment opportunities in the Commonwealth. The DCEAG will assist DHE in developing a policy framework that addresses scalability, sustainability, and equity for all students regardless of their location in the Commonwealth. The DCEAG will include secondary and higher education administrators from across the Commonwealth, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, and the Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education. Commissioner Santiago and Commissioner Chester are committed to exploring ways to expand early college access for the students of the Commonwealth.

Guiding Questions to Inform Early College Policy in Massachusetts

To help facilitate our discussion regarding early college policies and priorities for Massachusetts, enclosed for your consideration are guiding questions. I invite you to review these questions in advance of the joint Board meeting to help inform this important body of work.


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Early College Policy Discussion Questions
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Massachusetts Landscape of Early College


Last Updated: January 21, 2016
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