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More Early College Opportunities Coming to N.C.

RALEIGH, N.C. – North Carolina plans next fall to open another high school on a college campus that allows students to earn college credit as they earn a high school diploma.

The News & Observer of Raleigh reports the latest early college high school will open on North Carolina State University’s campus and comes shortly after a study found the schools have higher attendance and lower suspension rates than traditional high schools.

The state introduced the schools in 2004 as an experiment to help lower-income students. The schools are at community colleges or universities, and students can get an associate’s degree or two years of credit toward a bachelor’s degree at the same time they complete work for their high school diplomas.

Early results of a study by the University of North Carolina at Greensboro compared ninth-graders at the new schools to their peers who applied but did not get selected in an admission lottery. The study found 97 percent of early college students took Algebra I by ninth grade, compared to 76 percent of the traditional high school students, said Julie Edmunds, project director for high school reform at the university’s education research institute.

“A lot of these kids want something different in their life, they really do,” Edmunds said. “The traditional school doesn’t give that to them. (Early college) helps them see their future.”

The new school at N.C. State will focus on science, technology, engineering and math. Fifty ninth-graders will be enrolled this fall, with plans to expand to 250 students.

Students will study how to solve major problems in the world like making solar energy affordable, preventing nuclear terror and keeping the Internet secure.

“They’re real and they’re problems of the future,” said Ruth Steidinger, senior director of secondary education for the Wake County public schools. “These kids are going to be so lucky.”

North Carolina has one-third of the early college high schools in the country, and a number of the programs in other states have shut down during the recession because they couldn’t afford to pay the tuition for students, said Joel Vargas, a vice president at Boston-based Jobs for the Future, a nonprofit that coordinates a national early college initiative with more than 200 schools in 24 states.

James Blackwell is one of the new schools’ success stories. He got his diploma in history this month from North Carolina Central University six years after he first enrolled at the Josephine Dobbs Clement Early College High School on the university’s campus. He plans to start a master’s program next month.

The school helped its students by offering special counselors, internships and mentoring opportunities, Blackwell said.

“It’s a very rigorous kind of program,” he said. “It’s more rigorous than competitive because students supported one another. It’s very, very nurturing.”

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