North Carolina high school students are getting a head start on college tuition-free – here’s what you need to know

North Carolina high school students are getting a head start on college tuition-free – here’s what you need to know

Monday, February 27, 2023 - 1:22pm

High school students have a lot of decisions to make about their next steps in life. If higher education is in their plan, the Career and College Promise (CCP) program at North Carolina Community Colleges is a gamechanger.

CCP is a dual-enrollment program that allows high school students to complete college courses at no cost – minimizing the financial burden of college and making higher education a viable option for students who never thought college was within their reach due to cost.

“Families are more mindful than ever about the affordability of college, and they are seeking innovative ways to help their kids obtain college credit,” said Dr. Levy Brown, Senior Vice President and Chief Academic Officer at North Carolina Community Colleges. “Colleges and local K-12 systems continue to partner and find creative ways to promote CCP and it is showing. The word is getting out about the benefits of CCP enrollment across the state.”

CCP began in 2011 through a partnership between the State Board of Education and the North Carolina Community College System. The program has grown significantly in numbers and impact since 2011.

Over the last five years, enrollment in CCP increased 43% in North Carolina. During the 2021-2022 school year, nearly 70,000 high school students across the state enrolled, compared to 48,630 in 2016-2017. Today, students enrolled in CCP average an 83-percent success rate compared to a 72-percent success rate of the general student population, not dually enrolled.

All North Carolina high school students, including homeschool and private school students, may participate in CCP through one of the following three pathways:

  • College Transfer Pathway (CTP): This is the most common pathway, which provides tuition-free course credits toward a four-year degree and the following associate degrees: Arts, Science, Engineering, Teacher Preparation, Nursing, and Fine Arts. Credits will transfer to any UNC System or participating private college or university.
  • Career and Technical Education (CTE):
    • Curriculum: Provides tuition-free course credits toward a trade or skills-focused job credential, certificate, or diploma for eligible high school students aligned with their chosen career cluster.
    • Workforce Continuing Education: Provides registration-free course hours toward a trade or skills-focused job credential for eligible high school students aligned with their chosen career cluster.
  • Cooperative Innovative High Schools: These are small public high schools throughout the state that are typically located on a college campus. Students may work toward completion of both a high school diploma and associate degree, transferrable credit, or career certificate. There are 134 Cooperative Innovative High Schools in North Carolina.

Specific eligibility requirements for all three pathways can be found here.

To support high school students that are earning college credit through CCP, the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction also offers dual credit allowances for specific courses so that a student can earn both college and high school credit for one course. For example, if a student completes the college course, GEL 111 – Introductory Geology, it also counts as one elective credit toward their high school diploma.

​​​​​​​CCP impacts students like Vivian Carey of Hillsborough, NC. She is 16 years old and dually enrolled in Orange High School and Durham Technical Community College. Her dream is to be an emergency room doctor.

She enrolled in CCP for two reasons: efficiency and financial savings.

"I chose to dually enroll in high school and college because it's time efficient and cost efficient. It's a great way to dip your toes in the water with college and see how you mesh with it and see what preparations you need to make. I love how rigorous and challenging it is and I don't want to pay for more college than I have to," she said.

Carey is on track to earn her high school diploma and associate degree by 18, and later wants to go to medical school at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

“North Carolina remains a leader in the nation for dual enrollment. We also know a focus on communication, academic advising, coaching, and other support initiatives by the colleges have been instrumental in CCP student success. We will continue these efforts but also work with the colleges to expand pathways to strengthen our future workforce,” said Aaron Mabe, Coordinator for Career and College Promise at North Carolina Community Colleges.

Tuition charges for each student are paid for by the North Carolina General Assembly.

High school students interested in participating in CCP should contact their guidance counselor to assist in the application process. For specific questions regarding the program, email CCP Coordinator Aaron Mabe.

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