Early-college model thrives in N.C.

The early-college model is raising high school graduation rates in Guilford County, North Carolina, reports Education Week.

Four of the schools, which allow students to earn college credits while still in high school, boasted 100 percent graduation rates this past school year, and another three had rates higher than 90 percent.

. . . Once they take college classes, students realize they have the skill set and work ethic to make it, said (Regional Superintendent Terry) Worrell. “No one is holding them back,” she added. “They start to know they are smart.”

Guilford has adopted different variations of the early-college model: Some schools focus on high achievers, while “middle colleges” are designed for students who haven’t done well academically. The district works with Guilford Technical Community College and with private colleges and universities.

With a ninth early-college school opening this fall in Guilford County—this one focused on science, technology, engineering, and math subjects—the district now has the largest concentration of early-college programs in the state, which leads the nation with 74 of them. Guilford has increased high school completion rates overall, from 74 percent in 2006 to 84.5 percent this year. The graduation rate in 2011 for all high schools in North Carolina was 77.9 percent and 91.2 percent for the early-college models, according to the North Carolina New Schools Project, a public-private venture, which supports early-college policy and strategy.

The accelerated Early College at Guilford is located on a private college campus. In 11th and 12th grade, students take classes taught by professors and earn 60 credits.

The district’s middle colleges typically work with 11th and 12th graders who are considered dropout risks and need a fresh start. At the Greensboro College Middle College, Principal Jamie King works to build a family environment and engage students.

“You can’t just fade away here and hide at the back of the classroom,” said Mr. King. “Classes are small, and you have to be part of it.”

The district also offers all-male and all-female options.

The new STEM Early College will open this month at North Carolina A&T, a historically black college. Students will focus on renewable energy, biomedicine or  engineering.