Early College Programs Could Reduce Student Debt

Last updated on - August 18, 2023

Early College Programs Could Reduce Student Debt

Are you eager to find a way to save money on college tuition and set your child up for their dream career early? Then it's time to discover the incredible advantages of enrolling your child in an Early College High School (ECHS).

Imagine your child graduating high school with an associate degree under their belt, all for free! That's exactly what Early College High Schools (ECHS) offer. By enrolling your child in these innovative programs, they can simultaneously earn their high school diploma while accumulating college credits, putting them on the fast track to success.

In fact, many ECHS graduates walk away with an associate degree, significantly cutting their college expenses and giving them a head start toward their desired careers.

The History of Early College High Schools

One of the early champions of the Early College High School (ECHS) programs was the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Since 2002, the foundation has poured millions of dollars into the early college networks through organizations like Jobs For the Future (JFF).

Historically, these programs sought to provide a path for more students from low-income backgrounds to attend college. Today, the target demographic is still students from underserved communities. However, earning an associate degree while still in high school has attracted students from all walks of life. The increased interest in ECHS programs has made admission into some programs quite competitive.

The ECHS programs are generally made possible through agreements between high schools and a two-year or four-year college. Today, hundreds of early college programs exist in over two dozen states, including the District of Columbia.

Each ECHS program follows a residential or commuter program model. An example of a commuter ECHS is Richland Collegiate High School in Dallas, Texas; a residential model is Texas Academy of Math and Science in Denton, Texas.

Typically, students enter the ECHS program in 11th grade. However, some programs can start as early as 9th grade. The programs beginning in the 9th and 10th grades provide students with solid preparation for college-level courses they can take from the 11th grade. The high school is usually on the college campus, but not always.

Benefits of Enrolling Your Child in an Early College High School

1. Lower College Costs

Parents who enroll their child in an ECHS do not have to worry about paying tuition, which means their child can earn up to two years of college credits for free.

As a result, you can see savings of tens of thousands of dollars. The average cost of tuition and fees for the 2022–2023 school year was $39,723 at private colleges, $10,423 for state residents at public colleges, and $22,953 for out-of-state students at state schools (US News & World Report's annual survey). Additionally, the cost of room and board at many colleges could add another $15,000 to $20,000 annually.

Students who graduate from an ECHS can enter the workforce earlier than their peers from traditional high schools.

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2. Less Time in College

You know the old saying: time is money? With your child graduating from an ECHS, they could significantly reduce the years it takes to earn their bachelor's degree. Time saved is money saved (cha-ching!).

For example, a student entering a four-year institution with two years' worth of credits will only need another two years, in most cases, to earn their bachelor's degree. Even if they take three years rather than two to get their bachelor's, they are still well ahead of their peers, who take, on average, six years to graduate.

ECHS students have the advantage of time. Highly motivated students can earn a Master's degree in about the same time it will take a traditional high school graduate to earn a bachelor's degree.

Graduating from an ECHS will also allow your child to enter the workforce early and begin working towards financial independence (AKA: paying off debt, getting their apartment or house, investing, giving back, etc.).

3. Increased Chance of Your Child Earning a College Degree

Students who enroll in early college high schools are more likely to complete college than their peers in traditional high schools, based on a 2022 survey conducted by the American Institutes for Research (AIR). Without the ECHS programs, some of these same students might not consider college as an option.

When your child enters a four-year institution with most, if not all, of their lower-level college requirements out of the way, they can begin diving into classes directly related to their major. As an ECHS graduate, your child is also less likely to get caught up in the remedial (drop-out) pipeline.

4. Academic and Social Support

Students enrolled in ECHS gain exposure to college life in a relatively supportive environment. These students are more likely to pursue higher-level college courses at a four-year institution without needing remediation or developmental courses.

ECHS students attend school on a college campus while still enjoying the supportive wrap-around services of a high school.

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How to Find an Early College High School in Your Area

Finding an Early College High School (ECHS) in your state is easier than you might think. Here are a few simple steps to help parents locate an ECHS near them:

Start with online research: Begin your search by Googling "name of your state+early college high school." It will also be helpful to visit the websites of your state's Department of Education or local school districts. They often provide information on ECHS programs available in the area.

Consult school counselors: Contact your child's school counselor or college advisor. They can offer guidance and resources on ECHS programs within your state or region.

Utilize online directories: Explore online directories dedicated to ECHS, such as the National Association of Concurrent Enrollment Partnerships (NACEP) or an Early College High School Initiative website. These databases allow you to search for ECHS programs by state or zip code.

Remember that some programs might appear as "Early/Middle College" or have a slightly different name.

Early College vs. Dual Credit: What's the Difference?

Dual credit or dual enrollment programs, although slightly different from Early College High School (ECHS) programs, can help your child earn college credits and make college costs lower.

In dual enrollment, students usually take classes at a nearby college or university while still in high school. These classes can be at the college or at the high school. On the other hand, Early College High School (ECHS) is a special high school where students learn both high school and college subjects.

With dual enrollment, students can pick from many college classes. They can choose classes they're interested in or that match their college plans. In ECHS, the program is more organized. It has a specific plan that mixes high school classes with college-level classes. These college-level classes are chosen to help students meet general education needs and get college credits that they can use at other colleges.


Early College High Schools can be a great option to set your child up for success in their college career and possibly cut your costs by up to 50%. These programs can also increase your child's chances of graduating college.

By enrolling your child in an ECHS, they can save a lot of money for college and have a better financial future. They can earn up to two years of college credits or an associate degree before graduating high school without taking on a lot of student debt.

If you're a parent wanting to save money on college and help your child get ahead, check out ECHS options in your state.

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