Career and College Promise has three pathways that aim to help students excel post-high school: college transfer, career and technical education and cooperative innovative high schools.
The college transfer program allows students to earn college credits online through a community college and eventually earn a career-specific certificate or diploma program. The cooperative innovative high schools pathway, more commonly represented by early college high schools, allows students to earn an associate's degree and a high school diploma at the same time.
Doug Lauen, an associate professor of public policy at UNC, researches CIHS, specifically early college programs in North Carolina and trends among their students. He said students in early college programs are more likely to graduate high school, have higher test scores and are more likely to obtain an associate’s degree than a student in a traditional public high school.
Early colleges are designed to place students in college classes, and the impact these institutions have on a student’s ability to pass those classes and earn the college credit are positive, Lauen said.
Dual-enrollment programs are cost-efficient for students, he said, because community college classes are cheaper than a four-year university class.
Lauen said researchers have not found that early college students necessarily graduate university in less time.
“Once kids get to college, they want to be a college student,” he said. “So what we’re seeing is that they come in with tons of credits, but they still want to be around on a college campus for four years.”
UNC first year Jaden Skelly also attended an early college high school. She said she was glad to come to UNC with the advantage of having her General Education classes completed, and she was able to get right into the classes that most interested her.
Skelly hopes to graduate in the same timeframe as a traditional student. She said she was more concerned with using her credits as a way to focus on the classes she wants to take, build her resume and take a lighter course load.
Skelly said attending an early college high school allowed her to challenge herself academically.
“I wanted to push myself, but with that, I was also able to learn that I have a limit,” Skelly said.
As more dual-enrollment opportunities become available, more students are able to take advantage of them, Lauen said. Early college programs started in the early-2000s, and with support from the state and legislature, their growth has been fast and large.
Lauen said he hopes his future research will look into understanding how the early college model affects the experience students have in a four-year university.
“There are definitely gaps in the research,” he said. “And I hope the answers to some of these questions will help these programs continue to grow and thrive.”