Building a Foundation for Early College Success

June 2024

Early college programs, which allow students to take college courses while still in high school and earn credit for both, are gaining traction across the Commonwealth. More than 8,000 high school students are participating in programs made possible by partnerships between 62 high schools and 28 institutions of higher education. Research shows that early college programs not only help students build credits toward a degree, but also build confidence, habits, and skills needed for success in college and in life. 

Early college presents a unique opportunity to support students in developing foundational skills needed to access college level coursework, particularly in English language arts (ELA) and math. Early college programs are able to engage students early in middle or high school, map out academic pathways that facilitate entry into college, and offer time and opportunity to intervene when learning gaps create barriers to advancement. 

As Massachusetts looks to expand early college programs, we teamed up with the Massachusetts Alliance for Early College on a new practice brief to help practitioners support students’ development of foundational skills in ELA and math with the goal of building strong on-ramps to college level coursework. The brief, Building a Foundation for Early College Success, outlines how practitioners may prioritize their time to accelerate and augment student learning, plan and collaborate across partnerships, and, most importantly, move forward with the implementation of evidence-based practices. 

To produce this brief, we conducted a literature review and identified programs, both in the state of Massachusetts and nationally, that successfully expand and accelerate students’ development of foundational academic skills. Researchers then conducted interviews with eleven exemplary programs, documenting promising practices. Findings are organized into three main strategies for addressing college readiness gaps. First, the brief focuses on building prerequisite skills across content areas by way of strong core instruction. Second, it describes specific, evidence-based interventions for students with gaps in ELA and math. Third, the brief concludes with strategies to support college-level students through corequisite instruction. Exemplar programs, including key resources and strategies, are highlighted and linked throughout the brief.