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The Early College High School Model: Breaking Down Barriers to Higher Education

Providing high-quality educational opportunities to all students is a challenge that educators across the country are facing. With inequities among public school students’ resources and outcomes continuing to grow, finding solutions is a top priority. In North Carolina, similar to several other states, early college high schools have emerged as one effective solution.

The early college model is a solution to minimizing educational inequities across NC, combating barriers to college enrollment for students who traditionally face challenges transitioning to college, such as those who have low-income, whose parents did not attend college or members of historically marginalized racial groups. Early colleges target such students, boosting postsecondary education enrollment and attainment for those underrepresented populations.

Combining high school and college, early colleges allow students to attain an associate degree and accumulate college credits while simultaneously receiving their high school diploma. Earning transferable university credits in high school allows students to save money on future college courses, shorten the time to finish a degree, and overall improve outcomes and likelihood to attain a post-secondary education. All at no additional cost to students’ families.

Not only do early colleges focus on providing students with equitable access to a high-quality education, but the teachers and principals at these schools show outstanding dedication to educating and preparing their students for the future. In fact, both the 2019 Wells Fargo North Carolina Principal of the Year (POY) and the 2020 Burroughs Wellcome Fund NC Teacher of the Year (TOY) are from early colleges.

Early College Leaders Earn Prestigious NC Education Awards

Maureen Stover, known to her students at Cumberland International Early College High School (CIECHS) as the “Science Mom,” was recognized as NC’s 2020 Teacher of the Year for her dedication to inspiring pupils of all backgrounds and abilities to learn.

During her TOY acceptance speech, Maureen emphasized her devotion to her students, “I am humbled to be a teacher leader as we continue to find creative ways to improve the educational opportunities for every child in North Carolina regardless of zip code.”

CIECHS is a member of RTI Center for Education Services’ Early College Network (ECN). RTI supports early colleges across North Carolina by facilitating the ECN, a peer learning community of nearly 50 public schools convening administrators, teachers, counselors, and college liaisons to share best practices and advocate for student access and success in high school and beyond.

Matt Smith is the principal of Edgecombe Early College High School and the 2019 POY recipient for his commitment to establishing a school environment conducive to achieving academic excellence in NC. He has led the A-graded early college for the past five years and has been in education for 23 years. Matt works to provide outstanding educational opportunities to Edgecombe county, one of the poorest regions of NC.

Providing Equal Learning Opportunities for All

The early college model curbs educational inequities and prepares students to transition to college by exposing them to university classes in a supportive environment, providing career direction, and allowing them to graduate from high school having earned free college credits. In fact, research shows that early colleges are meeting the challenge of increasing the number of students attaining a postsecondary education, with a significant positive impact for economically disadvantaged students.

The success of the model, however, is impossible without the commitment of educators like Maureen and Matt, who focus on providing high-quality instruction and educational opportunities for every student who attends their Early College.

RTI is dedicated to supporting the early college model by facilitating the ECN. Contact us today to become a member school or learn more about the program.

Disclaimer: This piece was written by H. Frank McKay (Education Consultant) to share perspectives on a topic of interest. Expression of opinions within are those of the author or authors.