North Carolina Says Early College High School Initiative Has Curbed Dropout Rates

College education for some students in North Carolina begins in high school. Ninth-graders enrolled in early college education programs graduate with a high school diploma and either an associate degree or up to 24 hours of transferable credit after five years of courses — tuition free.

North Carolina is home to 42 Learn and Earn Early College High Schools, 38 of them are located on community college campuses. North Carolina education officials say early college high schools are at the heart of the state’s effort to keep dropout rates low.

According to North Carolina’s State Board of Community Colleges, nearly 50 percent of the Early College High Schools have had zero dropout rates.

North Carolina students attending traditional high schools dropped out of public schools more last year than any time since the 1999-2000 school year, according to a report released in February. A total of 23,550 students dropped out in 2006-07, representing 5 percent of the state’s high school population.

Dual-enrollment programs, such as Learn and Earn Early, which permit high school students to enroll in college courses for college credit, also have been known to increase postsecondary access and success for minorities, males and low-income students, according to a recent report by the Community College Research Center.

Low-income students participating in dual-enrollment programs increased their chances of enrolling in college by 22 percent, compared to their non-enrolled peers. The study found that students with lower grades participating in dual-enrollment programs also enrolled in college at a higher rate than non-enrolled students with low grade point averages.

“In just a four-year period, North Carolina has become an undisputed leader in a revolutionary new form of education that combines high school and college,” said Dr. Scott Ralls, president of North Carolina’s community college system. “This is a result of Gov. Easley’s leadership and an incredible partnership and collaboration between our state’s public schools, community colleges and universities.”

Grejika Abram of Louisiana, like many students in North Carolina, will be a step ahead of her peers at Mississippi’s Tougaloo College, where Abram will enroll this fall.

Abram, a recent high school graduate, took advantage of the dual-enrollment program offered by Neville High School and Louisiana Delta Community College to fulfill her freshman level classes before even setting foot on a college campus. She will transfer more than 40 units of college credit.

Abram says she enjoyed the opportunity to experience college-level coursework on the familiar territory of her high school. “They were taught as if we were stepping onto a college campus,” she says. “The classes were more laid back, more group-oriented.”

With the ultimate goal of becoming the first physician in her family, Abram is grateful to have a year’s worth of classes behind her.

North Carolina’s early college initiative was recognized at the Innovations in American Government Awards held at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government last week. The Learn and Earn Early initiative was one of 15 finalists selected from a pool of nearly 1,000 applicants to represent the best in government innovation on the local, city, country, tribal, state and federal levels. From the 15 finalists, six programs will be selected to receive $100,000 toward the replication and dissemination of the innovation. The winners will be announced in September.

Next school year, North Carolina will open 19 additional early college high schools. The vast majority of those will be located on community college campuses.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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