The Impact of Academic Momentum on Postsecondary Matriculation and Degree Attainment among Early College High School Students



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Background: The lack of college readiness among large numbers of recent high school graduates is one of the most significant challenges facing the American education system. College readiness is an issue of equity as numerous studies have found students of color and lower-income students are the most likely to be academically underprepared and, therefore, less likely to enroll in college and complete a degree (Haxton et al., 2016). Recently, states have introduced a range of policies and strategies aimed at boosting college readiness by strengthening collaborations between secondary and postsecondary education sectors. One popular strategy has been the introduction of Early College High Schools (ECHS), which allows historically underserved student groups to complete college-level coursework and improve their college readiness while still in high school. Purpose: This study examined the influence of academic momentum during high school on key measures of postsecondary success for ECHS students in a suburban school district in Texas. Academic momentum examines factors that contribute to the likelihood of college student success, including postsecondary degree completion (Wang, 2017). Methods: This quantitative study analyzed data from a Texas community college and school district partnership and included five recent ECHS graduating classes (n = 412). Student TSIA scores, college credits earned, associate’s degree completion, college GPA, postsecondary matriculation, and demographic characteristics were tracked, examining records starting with the entry of the first cohort through the first long semester after high school graduation for the last cohort. Data analysis for the first research question included descriptive statistics including calculation of means, standard deviations, proportional distributions, and frequencies to determine demographic and academic characteristics of students. Chi-square tests and a one-way analysis of variance were used to explain the differences in college credits earned, degree completion, and postsecondary matriculation based on demographic factors. The third research question employed binomial logistic regression analysis to identify the relationship between momentum measures and degree completion. Lastly, the fourth research question used a multinomial logistic regression model to determine the relationship between momentum measures and postsecondary matriculation. Results: Less than half of ECHS graduates across the five graduated cohorts completed an associate’s degree by high school graduation. At-risk and low-income students were less likely to matriculate to a 2- or 4-year postsecondary institution. TSIA scores, GPA, completion of core curriculum, and course withdrawals were all associated with matriculation. Overall, ECHS graduates who earned a degree while still in high school were more likely to matriculate to a 2- or 4-year postsecondary institution the fall immediately following high school graduation. Conclusion: Support structures embedded within the small learning environment of an ECHS can provide graduates an opportunity to obtain a postsecondary degree and learn behaviors important for college success. However, intentional efforts are needed to ensure the least advantaged students realize the full benefits of ECHS participation. Recommended strategies for improving the ECHS model include parental engagement initiatives, intentional advising by the higher education partner, and modifications to current Texas admission policies that unnecessarily complicate the high school to college transition for many ECHS graduates.



Early college high schools, College access