A number of states have adopted early college programs that allow students to take some college courses while they’re still in high school. The idea sounds good, but does it work — that is, do those students get through college sooner and at a higher rate?

In today’s Martin Center article, Shannon Watkins looks at the evidence from North Carolina.

The answer to the question, she writes, is that we still don’t know. The data are questionable and there’s a serious problem of design in that the state’s program is targeted at low-income students.

Watkins concludes: “In the end, the data, although imperfect, suggest that early college may be a fruitful academic innovation and worth state investment. But in order to really know whether it offers the distinct academic advantages that its advocates claim, more research that looks at students’ actual learning outcomes is needed. Otherwise, it might just become another way to funnel underprepared students into college.”

George Leef is the director of research for the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy.