Senator Mark Warner (D-Va.) works with staff on Capitol Hill in Washington in November 2014. Warner, the first in his family to graduate college, is sponsoring a bill to give grants to high schools students from poor families so they can take college courses. (Photo by Melina Mara/The Washington Post)

In the push to get more young people from poor households to attend college, some schools have taken an aggressive approach: Enroll them in college classes while they are still in high school.

The concept is called “early college high school” and has been tried in several states and the District of Columbia. The idea is to help high school students take college-level courses — sometimes within the confines of their own school, and sometimes on a college campus — before they have a high school diploma. Unlike Advanced Placement courses, which require students to pass a single end-of-course exam with a certain score to earn college credit, early college high school programs often offer college coursework free of charge and students gain college credit if they pass the course.

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The purpose is to give students who might be intimidated by college a taste of it in a low-pressure environment while also reducing the overall cost of obtaining a college degree. Some programs allow students to graduate with both an associate’s degree and a high school diploma.

Now, Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), the first in his family to graduate college, wants to give some high school students access to Pell grants to pay for college coursework. Under the proposal, Pell grants could defray the costs to the high schools that are already footing the bill for college coursework for low-income students. The longstanding Pell program has helped millions of poor students attend college by providing them grants.

“First-generation students are not only going to be able to knock off a semester in high school, but as a first-generation college student, seeing you can do college work and that it’s not that intimidating is terribly important as well,” Warner said Wednesday at a briefing on Capitol Hill.

[From 2006: A new tack to help at-risk students: send them to college]

The proposal is sponsored by Warner, Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Reps. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio) and Chris Gibson (R-N.Y.). The grants would only be available to students in schools that are designated early college high schools. Many early college high schools already shoulder the costs of sending students to college classes, so the grants would lessen the burden for the schools.

The proposal is being offered as an amendment to the Higher Education Act, which Congress may take up this summer.