Early college high schools

North Carolina’s early college high schools are changing the future — for the students who graduate well-prepared and for a state that needs a well-educated workforce like never before. Typically located on the campus of a two- or four-year college or university, these innovative schools aim to graduate students who earn a high school diploma as well as two years of transferable college credit or an associate degree — all at no cost to their families. The target population for early colleges is first-generation college-goers, those at-risk of dropping out or other historically underserved populations.

J.D. Clement Early College High School graduation
J.D. Clement Early College High School graduation, Durham

Developed in partnership with the NC Department of Public Instruction (NCDPI), the NC Community College System and the University of North Carolina, the early college high school initiative launched in 2004 as a way to encourage more students to complete high school and to gain the advanced skills increasingly demanded in the 21st century workplace. Early college high schools support students through what effectively become their first two years of college — typically the most vulnerable period for students from low-income families. Because students earn two years of college credit without paying tuition, early colleges also lift the financial barrier students and families often face when considering college.

Strategies That Make a Difference

NC New Schools works with educators in early college high schools to:

  • Embed academic and behavioral supports into schools to ensure high expectations for all students
  • Cultivate partnerships with higher education so that students can earn dual credit for high school and college classes, leading to two years of transferable college credit or an associate degree
  • Align curriculum requirements between high school and college for a coherent progression
  • Encourage students’ college-going identity so that they believe in their future success

The approach is working:

  • Graduation rates are high and dropout rates low across all demographic groups.
  • Students demonstrate strong success on state assessments and in their college classes.
  • Early findings of an in-depth study show that virtually all students are on track for college by 9th grade and that achievement gaps (between white and minority students, advantaged and disadvantaged) are disappearing in critical subjects such as Algebra I.
  • Nearly two-thirds of grades earned in community college courses by early college students in 2012-2013 were A’s or B’s, surpassing the performance of college-age students.
  • More than 900 associate degrees were conferred to early college students in 2013.


Scaling Success

Our state is now a national leader in developing early colleges. Since 2005, the number of early college high schools in North Carolina has increased more than fivefold, from 13 to 76. Nationally, about 200 early college high schools are open in 24 states. As NC New Schools helps to develop regional schools and district-wide efforts, these early college strategies are also being extended into conventional schools.

Schools are expanding these strategies across the state. Setting high expectations and supporting all students to reach them is important for all schools. The successful approaches that the state’s early college high schools have helped pioneer are now being adopted by traditional high schools in a number of rural, low-income parts of the state through NC Investing in Rural Innovative Schools, an initiative of NC New Schools. The unique $16.5 million effort, supported by a $15 million grant under the U.S. Department of Education’s Investing in Innovation initiative and private funding, is aimed at exposing all high school students to a college-ready culture and creating new opportunities for all students to graduate from high school with some college credit.

Related Links
Higher Education Partners:

Appalachian State University
Asheville-Buncombe Tech Community College
Beaufort County Community College
Bennett College
Blue Ridge Community College
Brunswick Community College
Caldwell Community College and Technical Institute
Cape Fear Community College
Catawba Valley Community College
Central Carolina Community College
Cleveland Community College
College of the Albermarle
Craven Community College
Davidson County Community College
East Carolina University Second Life
Edgecombe Community College
Elizabeth City State University
Fayetteville State University
Forsyth Technical Community College
Guilford Technical Community College
Halifax Community College
Haywood Community College
Isothermal Community College
James Sprunt Community College
Johnston Community College
Lenoir Community College
Martin Community College
Mayland Community College
McDowell Technical Community College
Mitchell Community College
Nash Community College
NC A&T State University
NC Central University
NC State University
Pitt Community College
Randolph Community College
Richmond Community College
Roanoke-Chowan Community College
Robeson Community College
Rockingham Community College
Rowan-Cabarrus Community College
Sampson Community College
Sandhills Community College
South Piedmont Community College
Southeastern Community College
Southwestern Community College
St. Andrews University
Stanly Community College
Surry Community College
Tri-County Community College
UNC Charlotte
UNC Greensboro iSchool
UNC Wilmington
Vance-Granville Community College
Wake Technical Community College
Wayne Community College
Wilkes Community College
Wilson Community College

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