Early College, Future Success

By Lawrence Hardy

Nestled in the rolling hills that once bustled with tobacco farms and textile mills, rural Rockingham County, N.C., “is in the middle of nowhere, but the middle of everything,” says Louise Uziel, the principal of Rockingham Early College High School.  “In the middle of nowhere” because the tobacco and textile industries have imploded since the early 1990s, with jobs disappearing or moving overseas. Unemployment is well into the double digits; and functional illiteracy, once close to 40 percent, is falling too slowly.

And what about being “in the middle of everything?” Rockingham County is two hours from the mountains, three hours from the beach, and five hours from Washington, D.C.

Another reason: Rockingham Early College High School, a place where 152 ninth- and 10th-graders are getting a taste of postsecondary education and more. If the students stay with the program, now two years old, they will earn a high school diploma and an associate degree in five years and be on course to join the new economy that is emerging in North Carolina and across the nation.

“By 2020, America will once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world,” President Obama told Congress in his February budget address. Many believe that goal, and the related one of ensuring that almost everyone has some college experience, is critical to renewing the nation’s economic competitiveness.

It begins here, in places like Rockingham County -- “the middle of everything,” indeed.

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