Early faculty applications may save 1000’s in faculty bills

Gabriel Quezada, 17, is a senior at Early College High School in Costa Mesa, California.

Gabriel Quezada

As college costs soar and enrollment falters, there’s an alternative to an expensive four-year degree that until recently was largely under the radar.

But Gabriel Quezada, 17, was reluctant to try.

His father, Humberto Quezada, said he first heard about Early College High School in Costa Mesa, California, when Gabriel was in third grade. But as Gabriel got older, it was hard to convince him to leave. So they made a deal: Gabriel would start as a freshman, but if he didn’t like it he could transfer to his local public school.

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Early college programs are a type of dual enrollment that allow students to complete college-level coursework while still in high school.

In the end, Gabriel made it through. In June of this year, he will complete his high school diploma and an associate degree in business. “That’s about 60 credits,” he said.

He’s already been accepted at the University of California, Los Angeles and a half-dozen other schools, but is still awaiting several scholarship opportunities, including one from the Angels Baseball Foundation that would cover all four years of college. “I hope I don’t have to borrow a lot or borrow at all,” he said.

Taking a few courses at a community college and then transferring to a four-year school is a proven way to get a degree for significantly less money.

After enrollment at two-year colleges plummeted during the pandemic, a number of students are now getting started, according to a new report from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, which showed a rise in double enrollment.

“It is encouraging to see growth in spring semester and dual enrolled high school students for this second year in a row,” said Doug Shapiro, the research center’s executive director.

How early college programs work

Unlike Advanced Placement, another program in which students complete courses and exams that could earn them college credit, dual enrollment is a state program that often works in partnership with a local community college.

Unlike many AP classes, these programs are not limited to high school students on a specific — and often accelerated — academic path.

Not all students graduate from high school with an associate degree, but most graduate with at least one year of college credit, giving them an opportunity to enter college as a transfer student.

At least 35 states have policies guaranteeing that associate degree students can transfer to a four-year state school as a junior.

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This saves two years of the cost of a bachelor’s degree and effectively cuts the bill and student loan debt in half.

According to a study by the American Institutes for Research, early college students are also more likely to enroll in college and earn degrees than their peers who were not enrolled in early college programs.

“Our research shows that early colleges are a powerful way to increase college enrollment and graduation, and that investing in these programs has positive returns for both the student and society at large,” said Kristina Zeiser, director of AIR researchers.

According to Zeiser, there are up to 900 early intervention programs nationwide, but only a few know about them.

“A very smart way to start your higher education”

“The culture is different than your average high school,” said David Martinez, principal of Early College High School.

The high school is a Title I school in the Newport-Mesa Unified School District of Orange County, California, which means there is a high percentage of low-income students. Funding is provided by the district and the state. “Parents don’t pay a dime,” Martinez said.

Students take a mix of high school and college-level courses, which reduces the time it takes to complete a high school diploma and one to two years of college courses.

“Families need a 21st-century approach to preparing their children for college, and this is one of the ways to do that,” Martinez said.

Families need a 21st-century approach to preparing their children for college, and this is one of the ways to do it.

David Martinez

Principal of Early College High School, Costa Mesa, California

According to a previous study by Columbia University’s Teachers College, nearly two-thirds of dual-enrollment community college students nationally came from low- and middle-income families.

88% of these students went on to college after high school, and most graduated within six years.

“It’s a very smart way to start higher education,” said Martha Parham, senior vice president of public relations at the American Association of Community Colleges.

According to another study by AIR, early college programs cost about $3,800 more per student over four years than traditional high school programs.

However, the estimated return on this investment is almost $34,000 in increased lifetime income.

“A free associate’s degree can really set you down a path where everything seems more doable,” Zeiser said.

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