LUMBERTON — A new study released by the University of North Carolina at Greensboro suggests that students attending early college high schools, such Robeson Early College High School, are performing at higher levels than their peers attending traditional high schools.
This news comes as no surprise to Robeson Early College High School’s principal Sheila Gasque.
“This year, out of our 35 students that went on to graduate, we had 25 that will have their associate’s degree,” Gasque said. “I think it is due to the teachers acting as advisors. Making sure that they are registering for the correct courses.”
Research for the study was conducted by project director Julie Edmunds, who has been following the progress of early college students since 2006. According to Edmunds’ study, 86 percent of early college students enrolled in college after graduation, compared to 65 percent of students in the control group.
The Early College High School Initiative began in 2002 with funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Early colleges offer high school students the opportunity to simultaneously earn their high school and associate’s degrees, or up to two years of college credit, by blending high school and college classes. Currently there are more than 240 early colleges in the United States, 75 of those schools being located in North Carolina.
Aside from a higher graduation rate, Edmunds’ study had also concluded that early college students are shown to have better attendance, lower suspension rates and are more likely to succeed in the courses needed for college. The United States Department of Education has awarded a $1.2 million grant to be put toward additional research into the success of early college students. According to Edmunds, the next step will be finding out whether or not early college students outperform traditional high school students after graduation.
“We did try to understand the positive results,” Edmunds said. “Part of [the success] is the college oriented atmosphere and academically focused environment. [Students] see themselves differently, as learners, as more likely to go to college. When they go to early college, they really see themselves as college students already. [In traditional high school] their friends would make fun of them because they liked to read but when they came to the early college, where studying and working hard was really seen as cool, they grow in this environment where learning is valued, and that allows them to be the type of person they want to be.”
Lindsay Ivey, who graduated as salutatorian as part of Robeson Early College’s 2013-14 class, agrees.
“The students were way different at the early college,” said Ivey. “You had students who were focused on learning and getting focused in Lumberton High School but then you had others who didn’t want to be there, but at early college everyone wanted to be there. Everyone wanted to go that extra mile to earn that associate’s degree. You could ask teachers, anyone who would help you. It was truly like a family there.”
Currently, Ivey is getting set to attend Methodist University in the fall, where she says she has been given a full ride.
As most early colleges tend to be smaller than traditional high schools, Edmunds says that students are able to receive more attention from their teachers. Early colleges are also frequently located on the campus of an existing college, such as has been the case with Robeson Early College High School, which is located on the campus of Robeson Community College. According to Edmunds, this allows students to regularly interact with actual college professors.
“We try to personalize with our students, to get our teachers very involved with guiding each student,” Gasque said. “One of the things I tell our teachers when they first start with us is that if they don’t want to get involved in their students’ lives, this is not the place for you.”