Background: Early college high schools, small schools that blur the line between high school and college, have been obtaining very strong results. This paper uses the frame of student engagement to posit an explanation for the success of these schools.
Purpose: This paper examines the impact of early college high schools on indicators and facilitators of engagement in the ninth-grade. The paper also looks at how early college students perceive these facilitators of engagement.
Participants: The main sample for this study includes students who applied to an early college high school and went through a lottery process. Student who were accepted through the lottery are the treatment students and those who were not accepted form the control group.
Intervention: Early colleges are small schools, often located on college campuses, that aim to provide a rigorous course of study with the goal of ensuring that all students graduate with a high school diploma and two years of university transfer credit or an associate’s degree. Serving students in grades 9-12 (or 13), the schools are targeted at students who typically are under-represented in college.
Data Collection and Analysis: The study uses administrative data submitted to the North Carolina Department of Instruction, including suspensions and attendance data. The study team also administered an original survey to treatment and control students that included scales on indicators and facilitators of engagement. Both the administrative and survey data were analyzed using multiple regression. Finally, the study team collected qualitative data from interviews with early college students.
Results: Early college students had better attendance, lower suspensions, and higher levels of engagement than control students. Compared to the control students, early college students also reported higher levels of all of the facilitators of engagement examined, including better relationships with teachers, more rigorous and relevant instruction, more academic and affective support, and higher expectations.
Conclusions: Students in early colleges experienced overall higher levels of engagement on a variety of dimensions. The qualitative data suggest that early colleges make concerted and purposeful efforts to engage students in school. These efforts seem to almost require that students are active participants in school; in other words, early colleges can be seen as essentially “mandating engagement.”