Educational solutions will require new thinking

Published 12:30 am Wednesday, January 16, 2008

By Staff
Education isn’t a one size-fits-all proposition.
The traditional method has worked for millions of Americans, but in a changing economy it may not longer cut it.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation recognizes that. It is putting up $21 million to fund the Early College Initiative program. Others are buying in.
Beaufort County already offers the College Academy at Beaufort County Community College for college-bound high-school juniors and seniors. A new program discussed this week would target a different category of students.
On Monday, the Beaufort County Board of Commissioners agreed to let the local school system apply for a grant to bring the Early College High School Initiative here. They should be applauded for their insight. The Washington City Council agreed, too.
The program was started in 2004 by Gov. Mike Easley, with the goal of providing first-generation college students with access to higher education through a nontraditional high school environment. After several visits to similar schools in other counties, Beaufort County Schools Superintendent Jeff Moss said the smaller class sizes and unique curriculum will offer “new avenues to educate our students for today’s society.”
Classrooms at the community college wing currently being used for to train students in the emergency-medical-services and law-enforcement programs will be used for the high-school project, at least during the early stages of the project. During the first year of the project’s operation, the new high school will occupy half of the wing, with the EMS and law-enforcement training classes being held in the other half of the wing. The new high school, if established, will begin with a freshman class of about 60 students in August, adding a class each year until it reaches the maximum of about 200 students.
Easley noted that Learn and Earn early college high schools, where students in five years of study may earn a high school diploma along with either an associate’s degree or two years of college credit, are spreading throughout the state. There will be 70 of them by the fall of 2008.
Easley is also breaking down the financial barriers to college through the newly enacted EARN grants that put a debt-free education within the grasp of every North Carolinian. All students with a family income of less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level are eligible to receive two years of college debt free.
There is no question that North Carolina has taken some economic hits over the past decade. Since NAFTA was approved, the state has lost over 190,000 textile jobs.
Easley says the old education model, which prepared a few students for college and let others drop out or graduate with minimal skills, doesn’t work in an economy where almost any job with decent pay requires some advanced training.
To accomplish that will require thinking outside the box. Easley understands that, and, hopefully, all local officials may also get on the bus.