13 Early College High School Pros and Cons

Early College High School, or ECHS, is an initiative that is currently available in the United States. It allows high school students who are pursuing their H.S. diploma to also pursue either an associate degree or 2 years of college credits by taking a combination of high school and college classes.

Although the benefits are similar to what a student with dual enrollment would experience, ECHS is a different experience. It requires students to take high school classes to be prepared for a full college workload. This is accomplished by having some of the high school classes be replaced by college classes.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation helped to fund the first ECHS initiative in 2002. Today, there are more than 230 schools in 28 states serving students with this option. If you’re thinking about it as a possibility, then here are the key Early College High School pros and cons to consider.

List of the Pros of ECHS

1. It reduces the cost of a college tuition.
Most Early College High School programs are offered in conjunction with local public school districts. Although that means parents would need to apply for their local ECHS program in some way, there is generally no cost associated with such a program. Students will earn college credit that is tuition-free while simultaneously satisfying their high school requirements. Certain programs allow for a degree track to be started as early as 8th grade.

2. It creates a direct college path.
Students taking ECHS classes are generating college credits which they can take with them to their future school of choice. Instead of taking time to prepare themselves for college, they are able to take actual college courses in program which will help them achieve their goals sooner than the traditional educational path would allow.

3. It offers different pathway options for students to consider.
Most programs give ECHS students at least two options. They can complete an associate degree for general studies, which is worth 60 credits, or complete the core curriculum, which may be worth up to 42 credits. It includes enrollment in college readiness and academic support classes, allows for parent meetings to discuss academic performance, and students often receive an advocate for their education within their school as well.

4. It can boost the graduation rates of high school students.
In the United States, the average graduation rate for high school students hovers around 70%. Even with education reform initiatives in place, some school districts struggle to see more students graduate each year. With an ECHS program in place, the graduation rates climb dramatically. For the ECHS schools currently in operation, the average graduation rate is currently above 90%. That is the equivalent of 20 more students out of every 100 coming out of school, armed with the skills they need to carve out their own successful niche in a career they are passionate about each year.

5. It supports low-income families.
Because many of the ECHS programs are provided as part of a public education in the United States, access to the college coursework is free of charge. That is true even for low income areas. Even if there is an added cost for Early College High School programs, there are scholarship opportunities available to help low-income students become exposed to college-level work. That exposure gives them more opportunities to change their circumstances and pursue a career that may not be available to them in a “standard” schooling format.

6. It establishes good studying habits.
One of the biggest struggles that college students face in their first few months of school is a shift in studying responsibilities. They are on their own, sometimes for the first time, and may struggle with good habits that lead to the grades they need for success. ECHS programs establish good, independent studying habits from the very beginning, helping students from any socioeconomic background be able to maximize the impact of their education while engaging with current technologies.

7. It closes the gap in college readiness.
ACT conducted a study of high school teachers and college/university professors teaching first-year courses at their institution. The Huffington Post reports that the study found 89% of high school teachers believed that their students were ready for college. Only 26% of the professors/instructors rated their students as being prepared for college-level work. With ECHS programs, students are exposed to the rigors of higher learning earlier, allowing them to adapt better when the actual change in schooling occurs.

8. It offers rigorous criteria for acceptance.
There are no exceptions to the rules established for Early College High School programs in the United States. Students aren’t rushed into a looser model of courses or accelerated learning, even if they come from a first-generation home or a low-income household. They are exposed to realistic expectations for their work and held to specific standards in core subject areas to ensure they are ready for college. That allows them to have an enriched high school experience and a possible advantage when they’re ready to go onto college.

List of the Cons of ECHS

1. It limits your future choices for college.
If you are accepted into an Early College High School program, then you are locked into a specific curriculum. You begin taking classes up to a year before you’d be formally attending college classes. That means it may be a suitable choice for students who have already envisioned a career path for themselves and know what they want to do about it. For students still on the fence, it may be better to wait for a more formal college experience.

2. It does not take senior year grades into account.
If you file early for an ECHS program, then it takes your current high school grades into account for acceptance. For those with borderline grades, the senior year grades may give enough of a boost to provide better placement options. For students without the right grades, ECHS isn’t even an option for some programs. Some students may find themselves doing a disservice to their future if they try to force this process.

3. It offers limited access to many students.
ECHS programs may be available in the United States, though not every student lives within a district where access is possible. At the time of this writing, there are 22 states which have zero Early College High School programs in operation. There may be dual enrollment programs and college readiness classes offered, but actual ECHS initiatives have yet to offer them, especially in the Plains States.

4. It may not offer credits which transfer over.
As with other college-style programs which offer students course credits while in high school, not every university or college will accept the credits earned within an ECHS program. Although students would still be able to avoid remedial classes during the first 1-4 semesters at college, the extra work they put in during their high school years may not translate to an actual degree if they took the core curriculum program only.

5. It does not always offer meaningful vocational skills.
On any given year in the United States, about half of college graduates are employed in a position which doesn’t actually require a college degree. Although students are earning degrees at a faster pace, that isn’t translating into meaningful skills that can be applied in the workforce all the time. Being able to gain college credits

These Early College High School pros and cons are worth reviewing if you have a student at home who is thinking about pursuing a specific vocation in college. Entry can be as early as 8th grade, while some programs still accept Juniors for their program. With college tuition costs exceeding $40,000 per year at some private institutions, an advanced education is still possible thanks to ECHS.

Blog Post Author Credentials
Louise Gaille is the author of this post. She received her B.A. in Economics from the University of Washington. In addition to being a seasoned writer, Louise has almost a decade of experience in Banking and Finance. If you have any suggestions on how to make this post better, then go here to contact our team.