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Updated: April 12, 2021 viewpoint

Early college is a successful investment

High school students in Worcester represent the possibility of great achievement, not only for themselves but for their community. Yet the road to success is not always smooth or equal due to economic and racial disparities. 

Timothy Murray, president and CEO of the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce

The Massachusetts Early College Initiative is working to increase the opportunities for success higher education offers, along with the economic benefits for the region fueled by an educated, diverse workforce.

Early college programs include classes taken during the regular high school day sequenced along specific career paths. Students initially take courses taught by accredited instructors at their high schools before progressing to classes on college campuses. Students gain the confidence and skills to smoothly transition to higher education. Worcester has more students benefiting from this initiative than any other community in the state.

The Commissioners of Higher Education and Elementary and Secondary Education said the state must allocate $7 million to expand early college. Strengthening it is an effective tool in the recovery process from COVID-19.  The pandemic spurred a decrease in college enrollment among low-income students.  Early college can reverse this trend.

Mary Jo Marion, assistant vice president for urban affairs and Latino Education Institute at Worcester State University

College can serve as an equalizing factor on the path toward income security. The 2016 median wage income for full-time workers in Massachusetts age 25+ rose in direct proportion to their level of education. Workers with a high school diploma earned $41,000, while the income of those with bachelor’s degrees increased to $69,000.

Students from low-income families face inequity of access to college. Affordability stands out as a major barrier. Early college helps ease this burden. When participating students graduate from high school, they already have significant college credits, which reduces the time – and therefore the cost – needed to obtain a degree. Fall 2020 early college enrollment in Mass. reached 3,125 students and spring enrollment is forecast to be about 3,500. These students are expected to earn a total of 24,000 credits, saving their families $5.2 million in tuition and fees.

Students taking part in Massachusetts early college programs are enrolling in college at a rate 53% higher than their peers, and they are persisting in college at higher rates, a strong indicator they will complete their degrees on time.

In Worcester, only 27% of students from the high school class of 2012 have gone on to earn college degrees. The city has answered by becoming the first school district in the state to establish early college programs in all high schools.

The school district and area higher education providers have stepped up. State leaders must back up those efforts by supporting an additional $7 million for the program.

Timothy Murray is president and CEO at Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce. Mary Jo Marion is assistant vice president for Urban Affairs and Latino Education Institute at Worcester State University.

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