Early college high schools reach new record

Press release from North Carolina New Schools:

North Carolina’s growing number of early college high schools reached a new milestone this spring, with more than half the 2,000-plus graduates in the class of 2013 earning an associate degree or two years of college credit in addition to a high school diploma.

At a time of intensifying focus on the readiness of high school students for college and the workforce, North Carolina’s early colleges are proving an effective model for helping students gain the kinds of skills needed for success in the increasingly competitive economy of the 21st century. Preliminary data shows the schools had a combined graduation rate of more than 95 percent, with more than eight of every 10 graduates earning at least a year of college credit.

The number of early college graduates has grown steadily since 2009, when fewer than 300 were the first to complete the innovative schools. The total number of graduates from some 70 state-supported early colleges with a graduating class this year is expected to exceed 2,000. The proportion of graduates earning associate degrees or two years of credit has also grown – from about 47 percent in 2010 to 52 percent this year, according to data provided by the schools.

North Carolina’s 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. Most of the 76 state-supported schools are located on community college campuses, with nine on the campuses of four-year colleges and universities. Students in the early colleges have the opportunity to earn an associate’s degree or two years of college credit – tuition free.

“These kinds of results are a credit to the strong collaboration among public schools, higher education and leaders in government and business that’s beginning to forge the seamless education system that North Carolina needs to create new opportunities for students and a workforce that’s second to none,” said Tony Habit, president of NC New Schools. “This kind of success is the result of strong and consistent political leadership by members of both parties.”

North Carolina’s early colleges account for about a third of the hybrid schools nationwide. The innovative schools in the state 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. North Carolina New Schools,, which leads 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.

NC New Schools is helping to scale up the proven approach of the state’s early colleges on a number of other fronts. Five traditional high schools in rural communities this year and eight more schools in the fall will be part of a $16.5 million effort funded by the federal Investing in Innovation initiative to apply key parts of the early college model to conventional high schools. In addition, the Duplin County school district has introduced an early college approach for all grades, K-12, with other districts likely to follow Duplin’s lead.

NC New Schools helps its partner schools transform education by supporting their adoption of a set of evidence-based design principles that include challenging, active instruction, college readiness, a high degree of personalization and strong collaboration among educators. Each school is supported with extensive coaching from experienced master teachers and seasoned administrators.

Early college graduates with associate degrees typically enter four-year colleges and universities as freshmen, but with about the same amount of completed credit as college students beginning their junior year. The schools are also helping give students a head start on preparation for careers or with job-ready skills.

Meagan Harrelson will return in the fall to Edgecombe Community College, where she just earned two associate degrees – one in arts and one in science – as a student at Edgecombe Early College High School. She’ll enter the college’s respiratory therapy program with a full year of prerequisites already out of the way.

“As long as I can remember, I’ve wanted a health-care related job,” Meagan said. “Now I’ll be a registered respiratory therapist after just two years.” With that qualification, she said, she’ll be able to get a job as a therapist while completing further study in a university.

Graduates of early colleges say they feel their schools prepared them well for the challenges they’ll face in college by ensuring they take responsibility for their own learning.

“We had to discipline ourselves. It was our responsibility,” said Dantavious Hicks, a member of Vance Early College High School’s class of 2013 and its first to graduate. “I really do feel that I’m prepared,” said Hicks, who will attend UNC Charlotte in the fall to major in biology. “You were really challenged to think and manage your own time.”

Jennie Robinson, who also graduated from Vance Early College, said she feels well prepared to enter Meredith College in Raleigh, where she plans to study communications and child development.

“They taught us how to be college students – responsibility, eagerness, desire to learn, ambition, experience working on projects,” Jennie said. “We did things that would help us in college and the workforce. We learned how to present ourselves well and how to make ourselves stand out.”

Graduates also point to a particular kind of teaching and learning in their early colleges that was both inspiring and demanding, helping them learn to think critically and for themselves.

“I understood that it would be hard, and I was terrified at first,” said Destiny Brown, a new graduate of Rowan Early College in Salisbury who will attend Appalachian State University with an associate of arts degree already under her belt. “It was a shock to go from middle school to high school and college at the same time. I came to early college, and it was papers and projects and finals.”

It was worth the effort, she said, not just for the associate degree she earned, but also for what and how she learned.

“No one ever asked me before what I thought,” Destiny said. “That blew my mind as a 9th grader. The teachers at early college just made a huge difference. They made stuff fun and interesting. They went above and beyond.”

Gennifer Jones was so excited about learning as a student at Anson Early College High School that she inspired her mother to pursue her own associate degree at Southern Piedmont Community College. Gennifer, who will attend Wingate University, wants to return to Anson Early College as an English teacher.

She said the school’s emphasis on active and engaging learning makes all the difference.

“I don’t like to have a teacher just sit and talk,” Gennifer said. “Our teachers gave us control over our learning. We did most of the learning. We interacted, either in group discussions or discussing with others. Doing a lot of different kinds of activities helped us learn.”


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