Funding Early College High Schools


In my most recent column for the Bangor Daily News, I discussed Paul LePage’s early college high school idea, describing it as the most compelling school reform idea put forward by any of Maine’s gubernatorial candidates.

A number readers who posted comments on the BDN’s website wanted to know how such a program would be paid for, with some suggesting that it might prove to be very costly.

I haven’t run the numbers on LePage’s specific proposal, but I don’t see it dramatically adding to school spending. In fact, I think it could be done within existing resources.

Here’s why.

According to the Maine Department of Education, average per pupil spending by Maine’s schools is little over $11,000. Generally speaking, about 60% of that spending is instructional in nature, while 40% is devoted to non-instructional spending such as administrative, facilities, and transportation costs.

So the average Maine school spends about $6,600 providing instruction to students. At $6,600 per year, can students be provided with enough college-level courses that they could receive an Associate’s Degree in five years of high school as LePage proposes?

Well, according to the Maine Community College System, it can provide courses to students for $84 per credit hour, which amounts to $252 per three-credit course. Twenty courses, which would get you to an Associate’s Degree, would cost $5,020 per student, which is less than what the average K-12 school spends per-pupil on instruction in a single year.  Spread those courses out over 2 or 3 years and they could easily be done within existing resources.

Where would the savings come from?

Making senior year matter. Any parent of a high school senior will tell you that far too much of 12th grade is simply wasted. For instance, having fulfilled most graduation requirements already, seniors often end up taking electives that are largely meaningless .  The time and money being consumed by these elective courses could be redirected into college-level courses that result in transferable credit.

Cutting the number of remedial courses colleges are forced to offer.  According to a recent report in Education Week, 3 out of every 5 Community College students nationwide “need at least one remedial course.” That means that taxpayers are paying twice for the same course – once in high school and once at the college level. Early college high schools, though, have modified curriculums that begin preparing students for college-level work as early as middle school. Since students in these schools are better prepared for college-level work, the remedial courses so many students need to take today can be replaced with courses that actually move them closer to a degree.

Cutting non-instructional costs. While 40 percent of K-12 spending is non-instructional in nature, the non-instructional share of total spending at the college level is closer to 60 percent.  That was what we found, anyway, when we used federally-reported data to calculate instructional and non-instructional spending at the schools of the University of Maine and the Maine Community College System. Having college-level courses available in Maine’s high schools would cut down on the need for many of the non-instructional programs and services at the college level, and those savings could be put back into course development and support.

According to the Legislature’s Office of Fiscal and Program review, Maine’s K-12, Community College, and University systems will spend $1.3 billion taxpayer dollars this fiscal year. It simply can’t be that in all that spending, there are no places to find savings that can redirected toward an initiative as innovative and potentially transformative as this one.

For more on the early college high school concept, visit, which is a great source of information about early college programs across the country.