For the last 20 years education reformers have been excited about early college, a program that encourages high school students to take classes at local colleges. The idea is to help students save money when they eventually go to college (because they’ve already earned credits) and motivate them by providing them with challenging courses.

It turns out that doesn’t always work so well. According to an article by Neal Morton in (Texas’s) The Monitor:

Hoping to close a higher education gap among poor and minority populations, efforts to help high school students earn college credit early have rapidly spread across the Rio Grande Valley.

But once the students graduate and officially enter college, some professors have found their performances disappointing, prompting the teachers to doubt the wisdom of public school programs that they feel hinder college readiness.

“They are intentionally setting these kids up for failure,” said Sam Freeman, a University of Texas-Pan American professor and academic advisor. “(Early college) students simply do not perform well.

Freeman cautions that, at this point, his impressions are mostly anecdotal. Early college high school students just don’t seem to do a good job in college course. Perhaps the college courses they’re taking are watered down and fail to prepare them for real college.

Or maybe not. It’s actually rather difficult to tell at this point. But with no evidence of success or failure, Freeman wonders why $20 million in state funds is going to create and support early college.

In fact there is extensive about the success of early college. The trouble is that much of the research has to do only with credits earned and high school graduation rates. But that’s not really the point, is it? No one seems to know what happens to the early college students once they get to actual college. Do the early credits they’re earned make them more likely to graduate than their high peers who take normal high school classes. How to they fare compared to other college students, those who didn’t take part in an early college program.

Freeman might be wrong about early college. But at this point, despite spending $20 million of Texas taxpayers’ money, it’s a mystery.

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Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer