High-school plan deserves support

Published 4:12 am Tuesday, October 2, 2007

By Staff
A college education is an unattainable dream for many young people. It shouldn’t have to be that way, and hopefully soon it won’t be for some teens in Beaufort County.
A task force of 15 community, civic and education leaders met last month at Beaufort County Community College to take the first steps toward developing a new high school. It won’t be like Northside, Southside or Washington high schools. The physical campus will be at the community college, and the approach will be nontraditional.
In a nutshell, the plan would attract students who have the potential to go to college but probably won’t for a number of reasons. Some may come from households that may not be able to afford it or from families that have never had a college graduate in the family tree.
This high school/college would be free. A student would enroll as a freshman. Five years later, that student would graduate with a two-year degree and be able to transfer to any four-year college in the land.
According to the New Schools Project, only 60 out of every 100 ninth-grade students will graduate from high school four years later. Forty-one will enter college, but only 29 will still be enrolled in their second year. Just 19 out of that 100 will graduate from a four-year school.
Beaufort County already offers the College Academy at the community college for college-bound high-school juniors and seniors. Wesley Beddard, dean of instruction at the community college, said the new school would target a different category of students.
The first year, 35 freshmen and 35 juniors would be enrolled in the new school. The following year, 35 new freshmen would be added to the mix, and the year after that 35 more would join.
Taxpayers won’t be asked to approve issuing bonds to pay for buildings to house the program. Students would be taught in classrooms that already exist at the college that aren’t used during the day. At night, the classrooms are used for law-enforcement and emergency-medical training.
The program is part of Gov. Mike Easley’s Learn and Earn Early College High School Initiative. The program, launched in September 2004, has the goal of creating at least one such school in every North Carolina county by next year. Beaufort County and BCCC officials hope to have such a school in the county and open by the beginning of the next school year.
Funding for the Early College Initiative comes from $21 million in subsidies from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and an anticipated $40 million raised through the North Carolina New Schools Project.
The first two years of college are also the most likely two years for a college student to drop out. Students in the Beaufort County plan would have those critical years behind them when they complete the program.
We believe the program deserves the full support of the community. The lives that could be changed by the program will pay benefits long into the future.