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2011 November 28 - 12:00 am

TRACKING TRENDS : NC Gov. Releases New College Credit Program

DURHAM, N.C. (AP) — Consolidating several college credit programs for North Carolina’s high school students and raising academic standards to participate should help make tens of thousands of young people more prepared for college or a career, Gov. Beverly Perdue said.

Perdue’s “Career & College Promise” initiative, which has the blessing of the Legislature and cooperation of the state’s public schools and higher education systems, sets out three ways in which students can earn college credits or career technical certification while in high school without paying tuition.

“We know have a clear pathway for our students either to get that job after high school — to get a career — or to get college credit, at no cost,” Perdue said after unveiling the program at Hillside High School in Durham, which already offers college-level finance classes to students. “This is transformational.”

The initiative refines and seeks to improve several efforts over the past few decades to let students take community college classes while in high school. Most recently, then-Gov. Mike Easley championed “early college” schools where students could get a two-year college degree in additional to a high school diploma. More than 31,000 students participated in such “dual-enrollment” programs during the 2010-11 school year, Perdue’s office said.

The programs were getting unwieldy because students often would take community college classes that wouldn’t transfer to the University of North Carolina system or didn’t fit the student’s career plan. And too many students graduating from high school were taking remedial classes at college because they had not mastered basic math and language skills, Perdue said.

“What we had just simply wasn’t working,” Perdue said. Now the multiple programs are being boiled down into one initiative that, beginning January, provides three ways high school juniors and seniors who meet eligibility standards, like having a 3.0 grade-point average or have standardized tests, to participate.

Students can take classes for free on a community college campus that should transfer completely to a UNC-system school and some private schools if they complete 44 hours of credit; obtain a career technical certificate; or attend an early college, now called a “cooperative innovative high school.”

The state community college and UNC system has worked closely with the public schools to create programs of study so that college credits are transferrable and fit well into fields and major students want to pursue, educators said.

“This puts meaningful opportunities within reach of all North Carolina students,” said state schools Superintendent June Atkinson. “This is one way that we can give our students a boost, give our economy a supply of well-prepared workers and live up to our constitutional promise that higher education be free as practical in North Carolina.”

The program allows Perdue, a Democrat, to partially follow through on a campaign promise she made while running for governor in 2008. She wanted to help children and their parents as early as fifth grade with the pledge of a debt-free college education. She set that aside before she took office in early 2009 because the bad economy generated a state budget shortfall that reached $3 billion.

She rolled out the scaled-back “Career & College Promise” in this year’s budget, which required no additional state funds. The Republican-penned state budget contained her proposal.

“This is one issue that’s much beyond partisan lines,” said Perdue, who has fought with GOP legislative leaders on several legislative fronts this year, leading to a record 15 vetoes. A Republican senator was quoted in Perdue’s news release praising the effort.

Perdue’s office said it’s not clear whether the plan will require more state spending in the future. The higher academic standards to take community college classes in high school could reduce the number of students who participate, meaning the state may have to pay less to community colleges to teach fewer students.

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