Panel Paper: The Costs and Benefits of Early College High Schools

Thursday, November 7, 2019
Plaza Building: Concourse Level, Governor's Square 15 (Sheraton Denver Downtown)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Drew Atchison1, Salma Mohammed1, Kristina Zeiser1, Jesse Levin1 and David S. Knight2,3, (1)American Institutes for Research, (2)University of Washington

In this study, we explore the costs and benefits of the early college (EC) high school model of providing dual credit education. This is part of a follow-up study examining postsecondary enrollment and degree completion outcomes for students who were admitted as 9th graders to 10 ECs through a random lottery process between 2005–06 and 2007–08. An impact analysis examines student outcomes up to 10 years after entry – potentially allowing for 4 years to complete high school and up to 6 years to complete college. As part of this study, we conducted a cost analysis and used results from the impact analysis to estimate the benefits of attending an EC. The proposed paper presents the methodology and results from the analysis of costs and benefits of ECs, answering the following research questions:

  1. How does the per-pupil cost of ECs compare with the per-pupil cost of traditional high schools?
  2. How do the benefits of EC programs compare to the costs?


Because the students in the follow-up study attended ECs between 2005–06 and 2010–11, our aim was to determine the costs of ECs relative to other local traditional high schools for those years. We used a hybrid approach to the cost analysis, relying on a combination of extant school-level expenditure data for ECs and traditional high schools in the same or neighboring district (in cases where the EC was an independent charter school), IPEDS data on the costs associated with college instruction, and information from interviews with district and college officials to understand any additional costs that might not be accounted for in extant spending data.

On the benefit side, we examined educational attainment outcomes to estimate the benefits of attending ECs. In particular, the impact analysis estimated the proportions of EC and non-EC students who did not attend college, attended some college but did not earn a degree, completed an associate degree without completing a bachelor’s degree, and completed a bachelor’s degree. We referred to prior research on the monetary public and private returns to obtaining a given level of postsecondary education. We then applied these postsecondary returns to the impact on postsecondary attainment to estimate the benefits of attending and EC.


Our analysis indicated that EC programs cost approximately $950 more per student per year than traditional high school programs, or $3,800 per student for the 4 years of high school. The benefits of EC resulting from the higher educational attainment of EC students amount to slightly more than $57,000. The result is a net present value (NPV) of almost $54,000 and a benefit-to cost ratio of 15.0. Even when using conservative estimates of the cost and benefits of EC, we found that the benefits substantially outweigh the cost. Monte Carlo simulations indicate that, if replicated we would fine a positive NPV with a high degree of certainty.