Early College High school:
An experiment that works
By Eric Chappelle
Contributing Writer
Early college is still a fairly new idea. The initiative to create high schools that include two years of college credit began in 2002. Since then more than 230 schools in 28 states and the District of Columbia have been redesigned and opened for this idea.
These schools were created so that low-income students, first-generation college applicants, minorities and others can earn a high school diploma and two years of credit toward a Bachelor’s degree in science or the Arts at the same time, tuition free. Students have access to high school classes from North Carolina Virtual Public School and college classes from Rowan Cabarrus Community College (RCCC).
According to the Cabarrus County Early College principal, Vance Fishback, students are chosen must complete an application during January of their eighth grade year.  “After the applications are submitted, students are scheduled for interviews.  It is a combination of the application  and interview that determines who is selected.  Early Colleges target students in several different categories including students who are first generation college students, in underrepresented college populations, can’t financially afford college, or those seeking  a different school experience.”
High school freshman begin the program on a community college campus. Each year they take more and more college level classes, except for English which remains at the high school level.
Students apply in the eighth grade to attend ninth grade at the school. Getting into the school is a long process involving applications for the school and for college, interviews and waiting for results. A student must pass all their classes in order to get in and at least a three on their EOGs.
Going to school here is harder academically. You have to worry about high school and college classes. There are higher expectations of students who elect to go here. No work can be turned in late. You have to maintain a 3.0 level or higher. Honors level classes start at 5.0. You can only be absent eight days a year. There can be extra tutoring involved before and after school that each student is responsible for. Students can be sent back to their intended high school for these infractions.
For some students, the loss of sports, after school events and other extracurricular activities make this a tough choice as well.
But for students who choose this path, it will mean a shorter route to finishing a traditional degree. Classes are smaller and there are more opportunities for students to make friends. There are only about 50 students in each grade. Students are more academically challenged and statistics show this means fewer dropouts. The schedule for each class day is nontraditional. For the past two years we have not had any drop outs.
Cabarrus County hosts their Early College program at RCCC. Each student is give a laptop for school use only. The program began here in 2009. More than 150 students are enrolled currently. The laptops are funded locally by the school district.
“While students do use the computers for access to online classes, the laptops are primarily used as instructional tools,” said Fishback.  “In addition to gathering research and creating projects using the laptops, all ECHS students  create electronic portfolios of their class work and experiences during the year.  The portfolios are used at the end of the year for students to show in student-led conferences how they have mastered the 21st century skills necessary for success  after graduation.”
In Stanly County, the Early College program is held at Stanly Community College in Albemarle. This is a five-year program with free college tuition and textbooks. Stanly Early College High School, one of North Carolina’s 70 early colleges, was recognized June 24 as winner of the annual Innovator Award, presented by the North Carolina New Schools Project
Start-up funding for the Early College schools is from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Ford Foundation, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, and Lumina Foundation for Education. Private funding for the Early College High School Initiative totals more than $130 million.
“It seems like a great educational challenge and I like challenges,” said rising ninth grade student, Christine Cline, who will attend Early College High School this fall. “It is a fantastic opportunity that I hope will open many doors for me and find a place where everyone fits in, helping many students get a start on life.”