UNCG research shows ‘early college’ high school students experience higher levels of success

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Dr. Julie Edmunds, a researcher in the School of Education at The University of North Carolina at Greensboro, found that early college students enrolled in college at a rate 20 percent higher than their peers.

UNCG nursing student Danielle Moser studies on a bench in Foust Park on campus.

The early college model is having a positive impact on all students, and, in some cases, it is reducing gaps between different populations.

“Early College” high school students in North Carolina are experiencing higher levels of success than many of their peers at traditional high schools, according to research conducted by Dr. Julie Edmunds at The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG).

Dr. Edmunds has been tracking the progress of early college students since 2006 and has found positive impacts at the high school and college levels. In her study, 86 percent of early college students enrolled in college compared to 65 percent of the control group.

At the high school-level, she has found that early college students are more likely to be taking and succeeding in the courses they need for college; they are more engaged, have better attendance and lower suspension rates, and have higher expectations. Students also reported more rigorous and relevant instruction, better relationships, as well as greater academic, emotional, and social support.

Dr. Edmunds has discovered that a variety of students benefit from the early college model. Most early colleges target students who are underrepresented in college, including those who are low-income or who would be the first in their family to attend a university. “The early college model is having a positive impact on all students, and, in some cases, it is reducing gaps between different populations,” Dr. Edmunds said.

Thanks to ongoing support from the General Assembly, North Carolina is home to more than 75 early college high schools, accounting for nearly a third of the 240 early colleges around the nation. Early college programs offer small, supportive learning environments that reduce barriers that keep students from attending college. Graduates of the programs earn high school diplomas, collegiate-level skills, and two years of tuition-free college credit or an associate’s degree.

“While the U.S. economy increasingly demands workers educated beyond the high school level, many of our teenagers are leaving high school unprepared,” Dr. Edmunds said. “Early college high schools are very purposely designed to get young people ready for college and to provide them access to college courses, and it’s clear that they are providing very positive results.”

Dr. Edmunds has been awarded a $1.2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education to conduct additional research into the success of early college students at higher education institutions. Early data suggests these students will outperform traditional high school students at the post-secondary level.

Because students choose to attend early colleges, it can be challenging to make comparisons between their performance and the performance of other schools in the state. However, Dr. Edmunds’s study took advantage of schools that used lotteries to select students. Her research compares students randomly selected to attend with those who applied but were not selected. “This means that we’re comparing apples to apples,” explained Edmunds.

Dr. Edmunds hopes that her ongoing exploration of the success of early college high schools will lead to a better educational experience across all high school systems. She envisions traditional high schools that expect their entire student body to attend college, placing greater focus on college readiness and providing early access to college courses.

“Early colleges are changing some of the dialogue and thinking about high school. It's about re-envisioning what it takes to successfully prepare students for college and today's jobs,” Dr. Edmunds said.

See Dr. Edmunds describe her work in her own words at https://vialogues.com/vialogues/play/11859.


The University of North Carolina at Greensboro is a challenging, supportive and engaged community where learning is carried forward to Do something bigger altogether. Founded in 1891, UNCG is the largest and most diverse university in the Triad, serving nearly 18,000 students. Standing apart from other universities, the UNCG community is joined together by a shared value: We define excellence not only by the people we attract, but by the meaningful contributions they make.

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Michelle Hines
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro
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