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New All4Ed Report Asks Congress to Allow Federal Pell Grants to Support High School Students

Allowing Students to Use Their Pell Grants to Pay for Early College High Schools and Dual-Enrollment Programs Could Boost College Enrollment and Completion

WASHINGTON, DC—Early College High Schools (ECHSs) and dual-enrollment programs allow students to take college courses while still in high school. Research shows that students participating in these programs are more likely to enroll in college, post higher college grade point averages, persist, and ultimately graduate from college. Too often, however, costs associated with these courses are prohibitive for students from low- and middle-income families.

To reduce the cost burden associated with these courses, while increasing college enrollment and persistence rates for students from low-income families, students of color, and other historically underserved students, a new report from the Alliance for Excellent Education (All4Ed) recommends that the U.S. Congress include a pilot program in the Higher Education Act (HEA) that allows high school students to use their Federal Pell Grant awards to pay for college-level credit-bearing courses. Such a program could build on the Dual Enrollment Pell Experiment initiative that the U.S. Department of Education (ED) is currently implementing.

“Early College High Schools and dual-enrollment programs give high school students a jump start on a college education,” said Bob Wise, president of All4Ed and former governor of West Virginia. “The programs are especially effective for students who traditionally face long odds of earning the postsecondary creditial that is so important in today’s economy. Unfortunately, not all high school students have access to these programs. Including a pilot program in an updated Higher Education Act could ensure that more historically underserved students graduate from high school ready for college—and with college credits to prove it.”

ECHSs and dual-enrollment programs enroll high school students in a variety of settings, including at traditional comprehensive high schools or on college campuses, notes the report, Now’s the Time: Early College and Dual-Enrollment Programs in the Higher Education Act. These programs, which were available at 53 percent of postsecondary institutions in the 2010–11 school year, also require high school–college partnerships to ensure the credits high school students earn count toward postsecondary credits.

According to one study cited in the report, students of color in ECHS programs are nearly 10 times more likely to obtain a college degree than comparison students, while low-income students in these programs are 8.5 times more likely to obtain a college degree. Despite this success, only 10 percent of high school students participate in programs that offer college-credit courses.

As predecent for permitting high school students to use Federal Pell Grant funds, the report points to ED’s Dual Enrollment Pell Experiment. Created in 2016, the program gave waivers to forty-four institutions nationally to allow high-need high school students to use Federal Pell Grants to take dual-enrollment and early college courses at their institutions.

As Congress works to rewrite HEA, the report recommends that Congress consider a pilot program based on ED’s Dual Enrollment Pell Experiment that contains the following student-level protections:

The report also includes recommendations focused on equitable opportunity for historically underserved students—including incarcerated juveniles, homeless students, and students in foster care; positive student outcomes and program quality; and accountability mechanisms and guidance for states, districts, and postsecondary systems.

“Opportunities for students to earn college credits while enrolled in high school can alter academic trajectories in a significant and positive direction, particularly for students from historically underserved backgrounds,” the report notes. “These efforts need continued attention from federal policymakers to improve access and affordability to open more pathways toward degree and credential attainment and expand opportunities for students to receive the education necessary for economic and personal success.”

Now’s the Time: Early College and Dual-Enrollment Programs in the Higher Education Act is available at

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The Alliance for Excellent Education (All4Ed) is a Washington, DC–based national policy, practice, and advocacy organization dedicated to ensuring all students, particularly those underperforming and those historically underserved, graduate from high school ready for success in college, work, and citizenship.