Promising results from the Massachusetts college entry program


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An undergraduate program for under-represented Massachusetts students is performing well, even during the COVID-19 pandemic.

New data from the state’s Early College initiative shows that students who entered the program in high school were more likely to earn college credit while in high school, more likely to complete financial aid applications, and more likely to enroll in college than their peers.

Pierre Lucien, a member of the Strategic Data Project at Harvard University and a policy analyst in the Massachusetts Department of Education, prepared the data for the state’s Early College Joint Committee. The data was released Wednesday during a webinar hosted by the Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education and MassINC, a statewide think tank.

The goal of the undergraduate program is to help reduce the state’s educational equity gaps and increase college completion rates among students of color, students of first generation and those from low-income backgrounds.

“Black and Hispanic students are getting half as much post-secondary education as white students, and the gap is widening,” said Juana Matias, chief operating officer of MassINC. “A lot of work needs to be done in our state, especially since we have a knowledge-based economy.”

The state’s undergraduate program allows high school students to take career-focused college courses for free and earn college credit, Matias said. They receive academic support and guidance, which many students consider the most important part of their academic success, she said. Because the program costs nothing, it also reduces some of the financial burden on students and their families to pay for their college education.

National studies have shown that these programs can double the level of post-secondary education, said Matias. States with the best programs see a 15 to 1 return on investment.

“No other post-secondary initiative comes close,” she said.

Beyond these statistics, local high schools have also seen how this program can qualitatively affect students, said Mary Bourque, former superintendent of Chelsea Public Schools and director of government affairs at the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents.

“We saw immediately at the end of the first year and every year thereafter that the students who had had the undergraduate experience were more confident and more willing to take academic risks,” she said. . “The start of college is a game changer.”

During the 2019 academic year, 1,140 students enrolled in the program in Massachusetts. It grew to 2,323 students in the last academic year, and is estimated to rise again to 3,500 in the 2021 academic year.

But the growth so far is not much compared to the state’s goal of enrolling at least 16,000 students in the program, Matias said. At the current rate, Massachusetts would not reach that number until 2032.

The majority of students who entered the program in 2019 were Black, Latinx or another under-represented population, according to Lucien’s research. The majority of secondary schools that participated were also majority minority schools.

The results to date are promising. About 85 percent of undergraduates earned three college credits with grades of C-plus or higher, and nearly half of them earned 12 college credits, Lucien said.

Collectively, the program’s students earned 5,088 credits in 2019, providing them with a collective potential savings of $ 1 million, he said.

Lucien compared the results of students who attended early in college with students of matching demographics who did not participate in the program. Students of the first colleges also filled out the free application for federal student aid at higher rates compared to their peers at the same school and other schools in the state. They also took MassCore, a state-recommended program designed to align high school classes with college and workforce expectations, at higher rates than their peers.

When broken down by race and ethnicity, black and Latin students in the undergraduate program outperformed their peers who were not in the program even more significantly, Lucien said.

Graduates from early colleges enrolled at a rate of 76%, compared to their peers who did not attend early in college, who enrolled at a rate of 55%, and high school students in the state, who signed up at a rate of 56%. The majority also attended state university, Lucien said.

“It not only fills the gap in opportunity, but it also protects the Commonwealth from brain drain,” he said.

The program also continues to grow, with both more schools and students enrolling.

Students in the program may also fare better than their peers during the pandemic, Lucien said. The rate at which undergraduates completed the FAFSA this year was similar to their completion rate in 2019. Meanwhile, there has been a decrease in FAFSA completions by peers not participating in the undergraduate program. , possibly due to the pandemic.

“This program is more resilient to the pandemic than a lot of other things,” said Chris Gabrieli, chairman of the Massachusetts Board of Higher Education.

While the goal of state education officials over the past decades has been to prepare students for college and for careers, this program helps students succeed in these fields, he said. he declares.

State funding for the program in fiscal 2021 is expected to be stable, according to Katherine Craven, chair of the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. The program received $ 2.5 million for seed grants and administrative fees in 2019 and 2020, Craven said, adding that the next budget cycle is going to be difficult due to the pandemic.

“We have to make it clear that this is the kind of thing we cannot put on the back burner,” Gabrieli said.

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