Scholarship Reward Proposed for Early High School Graduates

Published December 1, 2004

Free ice cream, movie tickets, T-shirts, and even a chance to win a new car have been used by some school districts as incentives to encourage students to come to school. But a new study from a Connecticut research and educational institute proposes an incentive that would encourage participating high school students not to come to school at all for their senior year. Instead, the students would complete their high school studies in three years, graduate early, and pocket a college scholarship worth several thousand dollars as a reward.

The October 2004 study, “The Early Graduation Reward Plan,” from the Hartford-based Yankee Institute for Public Policy, points out that early graduation is a feasible option for most U.S. high school districts. That’s because high school graduation requirements are generally satisfied when students complete a set of specified courses, not when they have attended high school classes for four years.

The idea of having high school students graduate early is not a new one, according to Yankee Institute Executive Director Lewis M. Andrews, author of the study. Several Connecticut school districts already permit early graduation, although only with the approval of school administrators. In Florida, Governor Jeb Bush (R) established in 2003 a voluntary “fast track” graduation option that would allow students to complete all the state’s required courses in three years rather than four.

The unique feature of the Yankee Institute proposal is that it provides a financial incentive for early graduation.

“The proposal made here would increase the frequency of early graduation by employing a financial incentive that would greatly benefit both students and taxpayers,” writes Andrews. “Specifically, it is recommended that students who graduate early be granted a college scholarship equal to one-third of the high school’s annual per-pupil cost.”

With the annual per-pupil cost approaching $15,000 for many of Connecticut’s high schools, Andrews notes the early graduation college scholarship could be worth as much as $5,000. That would provide a welcome reduction in the cost of higher education for low- and middle-income families. Some of the remaining $10,000 savings for each student who graduates early would be needed to cover a school’s fixed costs, but a significant portion also could be used to reduce school property taxes.

As well as the more obvious financial advantages that would accompany early graduation, Andrews suggests focusing on “the basics” would improve the academic quality of public education.

“Instead of trying to justify a fourth year of high school with an odd mixture of advance placement and eclectic non-core courses, perhaps it makes more sense to concentrate on fulfilling the real mission of secondary education and make sure that students are learning the basics when they need to–earlier,” he writes.

With today’s adolescents reaching physical and intellectual maturity at a much younger age than they did a few generations ago, Andrews suggests an appropriate response would be to encourage them to leave school earlier and move on with their lives. Getting young adults more engaged in the real world also would provide them with a meaningful challenge to the self-destructive behavior described in a recent Manhattan Institute study by Jay Greene and Greg Forster. The study revealed little difference in behavior between urban and suburban high school students with regard to drinking, smoking, using illegal drugs, and engaging in delinquent activities.

George A. Clowes ([email protected]) is managing editor of School Reform News.

For more information …

The October 2004 study from the Yankee Institute for Public Policy, “The Early Graduation Reward Plan: Helping High School Students Mature While Municipalities Reduce Spending,” by Lewis M. Andrews, is available online at

The January 2004 study from the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, “Sex, Drugs, and Delinquency in Urban and Suburban Public Schools,” by Jay P. Greene and Greg Forster, is available online at