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February 06, 2013 10:00 AM The College Tease

By Daniel Luzer

One North Carolina public school district has embraced a new policy of college for all. The unusual move would encourage every student to think about college as soon as he enters kindergarten and require a college preparatory curriculum for all students.

According to an article by Caralee Adams at Education Week:

After Austin Obasohan visited Duplin Early College High School on the campus of James Sprunt Community College in Kenansville, N.C., he was inspired. The academic expectations for students were high there, and nearly all students were graduating from high school—most with an associate degree. The then-new superintendent of the 9,375-student Duplin County schools said to himself: If this is working, why not offer it to all students?

In early college high schools students begin to take college courses before they graduate from high school. This allows them to receive an associate degree as they graduate from high school, and start college with half of their courses already earned.

Obasohan began to call for a districtwide early-college system. With the model, students in all five district high schools have a chance to earn college credit. And, to prepare students for more-rigorous courses, elementary and middle schools plant the seeds of postsecondary aspiration and foster a college-going culture.
Now, Duplin County is the only school system in North Carolina and one of two in the nation to implement districtwide early college.

It’s not just about early college. Under the Obasohan plan, even elementary school students visit a different college campus every year.

There are signs it’s working. Among other things, the high school graduation rate is improving. About 71 percent of Duplin students graduated from high school in 2010. Last year the graduation rate was almost 81 percent.

“We want a unified commitment to give every child the same opportunity,” Obasohan said to Adams. “We can no longer afford pockets of excellence. We want to make sure that every, every, every child in Duplin County experiences what early-college students are experiencing.”

That certainly sounds inspiring, but will it work? Probably not alone. Part of the problem with early-college-will-work-for-all idea is that, well, most of these students actually can’t afford to go to college.

About 70 percent of students in the school district qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. Some 80 percent of adults in Duplin County have no postsecondary credential. The median household income in the county was only $29,000.

It’s all well and good to say that everyone in the school district should be academically prepared to attend college, but some of North Carolina’s state colleges can set a student back a lot of money. The actual cost of a public university like North Carolina Central University, for a family with an annual income under $30,000, comes out to about $5,000 a year. How are Duplin County students going to pay for this?

This, by the way, is the same state where the governor Pat McCrory, recently said that he believed the “educational elite” had taken over American colleges and suggested it might be time to eliminate all liberal arts courses from the state’s public universities.

College for all? Well, North Carolina might not be the best place to try to make that happen.

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer