With families facing rising tuition costs, more than 1,300 students graduating from high school this spring in North Carolina have already made a big down payment on that expense by getting a head start on college by as much as two years. These graduates, all from the state’s pioneering early college high schools, are proving that schools that match high expectations with highly effective teaching and learning can help all students reach high levels of achievement and preparation for college and careers.
North Carolina’s 71 early colleges, which span the state from Cherokee to Currituck counties, target students whose opportunities might otherwise be limited – those who would be the first in their families to attend college, students from families with low incomes and minority students often underrepresented in higher education. Students in the early colleges have the opportunity to earn an associate’s degree or two years of college credit – along with their high school diploma – at no cost to their families.
About half the 1,300-plus graduates this year earned an associate’s degree or two years of transferrable college credit – giving them a significant head start on a four-year degree or career preparation. Unofficial data indicates that for the 40 schools with full cohorts of students graduating this year, more than 90 percent of the students who began as freshmen earned at least a high school diploma.
These schools are developed and operated under unique partnerships among local school districts, the State Board of Education, the Department of Public Instruction, the North Carolina Community College System and the University of North Carolina. The North Carolina New Schools Project, which helps lead the state’s early college high school initiative, works with school districts and schools statewide to transform secondary education to ensure that all students graduate ready for college, careers and life.
Teresa Pierrie, principal of Wake Early College of Health and Sciences, said that such success stems from a clear mission and focus. None of the members of the graduating class dropped out during their five years at the school, and 22 of the 47 graduates earned associate’s degrees.
“Faculty and staff share a laser-like focus on why this early college exists,” Pierrie said. “Everybody from the support staff to the rank and file are all clear that if a child is going to choose to come to an early college, we are going to commit to that child’s success. We have really high expectations for every child.”
The class of 2011 represents the largest yet to complete the innovative high school-college hybrid, with 22 of the schools graduating their first classes and 18 their second. The number of graduates this year is more than twice the size of the class of 2010. The other 31 schools will graduate their first classes next year or later, depending on when they opened. In most of the state’s early colleges, students have five years to complete both their high school diploma and associate’s degree.
Sherrod Fenner considers himself lucky to have attended Edgecombe Early College High School. In the fall, he plans to study computer engineering at N.C. State University, with an associate’s degree in arts, another in science and more than two years of college credit already under his belt.
“I can’t even describe how much of a help this is for my family,” said Sherrod, 19, who will be the first in his immediate family to attend college. “That’s a real leg up.”
He said the strong support he received from teachers at both the early college and the community college helped him do well in even the classes he found the most difficult. When he started in U.S. History with a failing grade, he said, he sought help from his advisor and teacher. “I just decided I wasn’t going to fail,” Sherrod said. “If you cry out for help, there’s always a door open and someone there to help.”
Elizabeth Birolin wanted to drop out within her first week at Macon County Early College High School. Instead she’ll receive an associate’s of arts degree along with her high school diploma when she graduates in early June. Elizabeth, 18, will attend Brevard College in the fall to study graphic design.
“I don’t think I would have learned what I did if I’d gone to the regular high school,” said Elizabeth, the first in her family to attend college. “I would be a different person. I think I’m better prepared for college by being in college classes. The teachers are really caring and they’re there to help you.”
Augustine Masiala found that same kind of support from her teachers at Wake Early College of Health and Sciences, from which she’ll graduate on Tuesday.
“I knew it would be harder,” said Augustine, 19. “But our teachers always encouraged us to get extra help, and they always gave it in class and outside of class. They really made it easy to speak with them. They do a great job of being personal.”
In the fall, Augustine will attend East Carolina University to study exercise physiology in preparation for a graduate degree in physical therapy. She’ll have a head start at ECU, having earned an associate’s of arts degree and the college credit that comes with it – for free.
“It was definitely important in my family to have two years of tuition taken care of,” she said.
The North Carolina New Schools Project is a statewide public-private partnership that accelerates systemic, sustainable innovation in secondary schools across the state. NCNSP’s goal is to ensure every student across North Carolina graduates ready for college, careers and life.Read the full article