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Designing Policies to Encourage Early High School Graduation

There is a lot of money to be saved when high school students graduate early, so many states are offering incentives for high-achieving students who take this route. But as states craft policies, researchers at Jobs for the Future, a Boston-based national nonprofit, looked into the best way to encourage this education fast-track.

Incentives for Early Graduation: How Can State Policies Encourage Students to Complete High School in Less Than Four Years? by Diane Ward and Joel Vargas notes that a growing number of states are offering financial rewards for students who graduate early from high school. Their brief suggests state policymakers who hope to save money through these acceleration programs consider the purpose and make sure students are best prepared if they leave high school early.

The authors suggest that the appeal of policies to help high school students earn diplomas faster will likely increase as cash-strapped states try to trim costs. States that offer state-funded scholarships to students who graduate early include Arizona, Idaho, and Utah. South Dakota and Indiana just passed legislation setting up programs. Other states with similar bills pending are Illinois, Kansas,Kentucky, Minnesota, Missouri, and Nevada. (A chart detailing the eligibility requirements by state and financial impact is included.)

The JFF brief notes that states should carefully think about design factors, structure, and funding as they move forward. The authors say the best early-graduation policies should make sure:
-Students graduating early meet the same or higher competencies as others who graduate on time;
-Students are prepared for college and don't need developmental education on campus; and
-Low-income and other underrepresented students are targeted and encouraged to take college courses in high school and take advantage of incentives for acceleration.

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