The Early Entrance Program (EEP) at California State University, Los Angeles, was founded in 1983 by a psychology professor on the faculty. For most of the 80s, it was a small program of only a few students, but around 1991, when I started, the roster grew by leaps and bounds. There are currently roughly 100 students at the CSULA campus who started through the EEP, and the freshman class consists of 20 to 30 people every year.
Offering an alternative to the dreadful doldrums of high school, the EEP offers gifted students between the ages of 11 and 16 the opportunity to start at a university full-time while maintaining a reasonably ordinary social environment. To gain admission, students must score over 1100 on the Washington Pre-College Test, an SAT equivalent, and maintain tolerably good grades during a trial summer quarter. Additionally, the director conducts an interview to make sure that the student really wants to join, and that this adventure is not exclusively their parents' idea.
Speaking personally, the EEP was an incredible opportunity and the best choice I have ever made. Although I would have grave reservations about sending an 11-year old off to college alone, the EEP provided a place to go between classes, and a closer group of friends than I'd ever found in junior high. The classes were newly challenging, the environment granted some precious freedom, and my friends were smart enough that I gained a bit of humility.
Particularly important in the success of the EEP are two factors. First, it has attained reasonable size, a sort of critical mass. In a program of fewer than 10 or 20 students, anything close to a normal social environment is impossible, and this becomes more like the individual cases of early college entrance that have occurred elsewhere for years. Second, it has a dedicated lounge on campus, a place where the students can go between classes, and which provides a degree of cohesion.
Sadly, the EEP at CSULA is the only program of its kind in the nation, although the University of Washington and Johns Hopkins maintain vaguely similar ones. Many colleges are willing to admit teenaged students, and a few even have programs to encourage them, but none have a considerable support structure. I consider it rash, and probably detrimental, to surround 13-year olds with an exclusively adult environment. On the other hand, students in the EEP tend to form large groups of friends that stick together well after graduation. I'd like to see other programs like this one spring up elsewhere. Simon's Rock College bears more resemblance than anything else, but it targets distinctly older students.