ECHS Designation Process for Texas Public Schools

What Is ECHS Designation?

To establish and run an Early College High School (ECHS), public school districts must apply to obtain ECHS designation from the Texas Education Agency (TEA). Thereafter, an ECHS must re-apply each year to maintain its designation.

The designation process is guided by TEA’s ECHS Blueprint. See below to learn more about the Blueprint, including planning, scheduling, designation application, and other considerations.


A lot of careful planning must happen before an ECHS can open its doors. The TEA designation process ensures that a campus can support and sustain the ECHS model with fidelity. The Texas Early College High School: Countdown to Opening document outlines questions to consider prior to opening an ECHS and provides recommendations for implementation. To assist planning efforts, ECHS planning teams may consider networking with existing ECHS leadership teams. The Texas ECHS directory, Texas Early College High School: Countdown to Opening Video Series, and list of ECHS demonstration sites can help you get started.


There are two key deadlines to pay attention to in the designation process. Both deadlines occur in the fall term (before the winter holiday break), but the exact dates change from year to year.

TEA requests advance notification from all organizations that intend to apply for ECHS designation. This Notice of Intent to Apply is typically due no later than mid-November. The deadline to apply for ECHS designation is typically due around mid-December. When we learn the deadline dates for the current year, we post them on our Resources page.

Another date to keep in mind is the day that TEA announces approved ECHS designations for the following school year. This announcement is typically made in the spring.

The ECHS Blueprint

The downloadable Early College High School Blueprint was created by TEA to provide guidance and direction for ECHS creation teams. It is essential that schools going through the designation application process adhere to the guidelines detailed in this document. The ECHS Blueprint divides the process into six “benchmarks”:

  • Benchmark 1: Target Population
  • Benchmark 2: Partnership Agreement
  • Benchmark 3: P-16 Leadership Initiatives
  • Benchmark 4: Curriculum and Support
  • Benchmark 5: Academic Rigor and Readiness
  • Benchmark 6: School Design

For each benchmark, the ECHS Blueprint outlines the deliverables applicants for ECHS designation must provide. The document also directs applicants to the sources of data that should inform the content of those deliverables.

In the ECHS Blueprint, TEA designates three status levels for designation applicants:

  • Initiating—These are new ECHSs applying for designation for the first time. They are generally already offering dual credit to their students, working with an IHE partner, and offering student supports.
  • Implementing—These are ECHSs that have already earned designation by demonstrating they can implement all of the benchmarks.
  • Exemplar—Exemplar campuses have been designated for at least four years, and have reached the “exemplar level” in at least three of the categories, including benchmark 4, curriculum and support.

For each benchmark, the ECHS Blueprint defines the standards every organization must meet to achieve initiating, implementing, and exemplar status.

Memorandum of Understanding

The key deliverable for benchmark 2 is the Memorandum of Understanding, or MOU. That’s because Texas Education Code 29.908 says that Texas ECHS programs, “must include articulation agreements with colleges, universities, and technical schools in this state to provide a participating student access to postsecondary education and training opportunities.” The MOU serves as this articulation agreement.

The thinking behind articulation agreements is, when in doubt, have a plan. MOUs help maximize an ECHS’s chance of success by formalizing the school district-IHE partnership in the following areas:

  • General operating procedures: defines the roles, responsibilities and financial obligations of each partner.
  • Use of facilities: in Texas, an ECHS campus can be in a new or existing building, by itself, or as a campus within a campus. ECHS students also need permitted access to partner IHE campuses. The MOU outlines how space is allocated and shared.
  • Course articulation: establishes policies for matching and transferring coursework between the partners, as well as ongoing procedures for reviewing courses that may be counted for dual credit.

TEA’s downloadable Guidance for Early College High Schools: Memorandum of Understanding is an essential resource for ECHS planning teams.

Planning Resource for the MOU Requirement

Memorandum of Understanding (MOU): Guidance for Early College High Schools

View/Download PDF


TEA’s formal application process for ECHS designation occurs online. It is a guided process staged to follow the sequence of benchmarks in the ECHS Blueprint. As you move through each stage in the sequence, the application will instruct you which information to input, and which documents to upload.

The application period is limited. All applications are required to be submitted to TEA, through their online portal.

Leadership Coaching

TEA provides technical assistance to existing ECHS campuses in the form of coaching for ECHS campus leaders. These coaching sessions can be particularly helpful during the first years between initial designation and graduation of the ECHS’s entering class. Coaches support campus leaders in creating, refining, and implementing systemic structures to meet objectives of the ECHS Blueprint. Contact us to learn more.

Technical Assistance Webinar

November 10, 2016

  • As part of ongoing technical assistance and support, a webinar was held on Thursday, November 10, 2016 from 1:30-2:30 pm Central Time.
  • The webinar provided information on application requirements, how to address the ECHS blueprint within the application, timelines, and resources and support.
  • Topic: Early College High School Webinar – Designation Application
  • Click here to view the webinar.
  • ECHS Designation Application [powerpoint]
  • ECHS Designation Application [transcript]
  • The webinar was hosted by Education Service Center Region 13. Contact or call 512-919-5444 for technical assistance.