The Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education

Early College Programming in Massachusetts

Members of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education
Mitchell D. Chester, Ed.D., Commissioner
December 15, 2016


In January 2016, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) and Board of Higher Education (BHE) came together to discuss the topic of early college programming and to better understand the entire spectrum of early college models found throughout the Commonwealth. This memorandum summarizes that discussion and outlines the steps taken over the past year to gather more information about early college programming across the state, in preparation for a joint discussion by both boards in January 2017.

Current Early College Landscape

Most high schools in Massachusetts offer some form of early college programming, such as Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, and articulation agreements with local postsecondary institutions. 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 the ability of high school students to earn both secondary and college credits simultaneously (dual enrollment).1

All 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. Additional elements could include:

  1. Identifying an industry sector or specific career pathway
  2. Establishing high school and college partnerships
  3. Aligning high school and college curricula
  4. Engaging employers and integrating career development education
  5. Supporting students academically and non-academically

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.

Early College Research Project - Parthenon-EY

Following a joint expression of interest from BESE and BHE in January 2016 to further explore the early college landscape in Massachusetts, through the generous support of the Barr Foundation and partnership with Parthenon-EY, a joint steering committee and working group was charged with exploring the role that early college pathways could play in helping improve postsecondary completion in Massachusetts.

The idea of using early college pathways to promote postsecondary completion is not new to the Commonwealth. Local school districts, postsecondary institutions, and non-profit organizations across the state have pioneered early college models and promoted their expansion for many years. The goal of the Parthenon-EY study is to knit together this work, along with other dual enrollment efforts, and provide recommendations regarding what it would take to build a broad scale, statewide early college initiative.

The Parthenon-EY study2 highlights a number of advantages to the state's use of early college high schools as a means of improving postsecondary completion, including the strategy's alignment with state goals, the strong foundation of local early college programs, and the ability to achieve improved outcomes at reasonable costs. I look forward to hearing more about the report from Parthenon-EY representatives at our December meeting and discussing these issues further with our board and BHE at our joint meeting in January.


Parthenon-EY PowerPoint Presentation
Download Word Document
Joint Steering Committee and Working Group Membership