Tri-County Early College High School Executive Summary

Tri-County Early College High School (TCEC), a cooperative innovative high school located on the Tri-County Community College (TCCC) campus in Murphy, North Carolina, opened its doors in 2006. With the start-up support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, TCEC is one of over 40 North Carolina early colleges created to carry out former Governor Easley's Learn and Earn Initiative. TCEC offers students an accelerated, rigorous program of study, allowing them to graduate in four or five years with a high school diploma and a two-year college degree. Any student enrolled at TCEC begins taking college classes through TCCC in 9th grade, and because students are enrolled in TCEC, they pay nothing for books or college classes. The accelerated program draws students who seek a different challenge than is offered at most traditional high schools and students who are targeted for enrollment as coming from underserved populations or those who would be the first in their families to graduate from college. In the 2022-2023 school year, Tri-County Early College High School currently serves 127 students in grades 9-13. With a goal of enrolling 40 ninth graders each year, TCEC values the smaller school environment,  allowing faculty, staff, and administrators to support our students’ success in the challenging program of study and to adhere to the foundational principles of the school to serve at-risk or first-time college students. As a NC public school of choice, TCEC welcomes applications from prospective 9th and 10th grade students in the spring before the new school year. The application review committee looks for students who demonstrate motivation to take on the challenges of the TCEC experience. 


TCEC’s teachers utilize innovative, individualized instruction and project-based instructional practices to help students access and apply curricula and to develop the skills for success that are so critical in today’s global economy – skills such as collaboration, critical thinking, agility and adaptability, initiative and entrepreneurship, oral and written communication, accessing and analyzing information, and curiosity and imagination. Faculty, staff, and administration work diligently to help students live into the vision of the school:  To equip students with the skills, knowledge, and inspiration needed to thrive in a changing world and to accomplish any dream imaginable.


The combination of a small school environment, individualized instruction, student agency, and project-based approaches results in student success stories. Thirty-five students graduated in the 2022 cohort: 28 of the 35 (80%) graduated with their high school diploma and a two-year degree. Three of the 28 who graduated with a two-year degree earned both an Associate of Arts degree and an Associate of Science degree. Of the 35 seniors in the graduating class of 2022, 66% planned to attend a four-year university, 5% planned to pursue careers through programs at two-year and technical schools, 29% planned to enter the workforce, and 1% joined the military


TCEC’s administration and faculty work diligently to offer new learning opportunities to students. In addition to the aviation science program, which now includes credentialing courses in drone technology through Career and Technical Education, TCEC’s students have access to courses in Adobe visual design and health science courses that prepare students for careers in the medical field. Students at TCEC also have the option of pursuing advanced foreign language studies with Honors Spanish III and Advanced Placement Spanish now taught face-to-face. Opportunities will expand for TCEC’s students in the 2023-2024 school year with the opening of the new Cherokee County Schools of Innovation, the new home for TCEC. In conjunction with programming offered through TCCC and the Cherokee County Schools Career Academy, students will have opportunities to continue taking courses in Adobe, health science, and aviation, as well as, industrial technology and construction technology. With high school courses taking place in the new facility, students will have expanded access to resources and technology that promote academic success. 


Another key feature of the learning culture at TCEC is the school’s developing partnership with our partner school in Herning, Denmark. In October 2022, TCEC’s students hosted 22 students and 2 teachers from Herning Gymnasium, and in March 2023, 21 TCEC students and four faculty will travel to Paris, France, and then to Herning, Denmark and Copenhagen, Denmark, the first educational adventure of its kind for TCEC students. With this expanding partnership through travel and other potential learning opportunities through video conferencing, the potential for helping students develop skills as global citizens who can work collaboratively across cultures offers exciting, enriching possibilities. 


As a companion to the academic program, TCEC encourages students to develop into well-rounded, multi-faceted individuals. Students grow personally while they give back to the community by devoting time to service and volunteering each school year: 9th graders earn 10 service hours; 10th graders earn 20 service hours; 11th graders earn 30 service hours; 12th graders earn 40 service hours. Additionally, students participate in clubs that encourage community engagement, and they learn teamwork and leadership as members of various sports teams, including cross country, golf, soccer, swimming, and track and field. In fact, students have been instrumental in bringing several of these sports programs to life by advocating for and recruiting other TCEC students to join the teams. For example, men’s soccer made its debut in the Fall of 2022 because of the efforts of students and the Athletic Director. 


Tri-County Early College is more than just a school; it is a closely connected learning community. During students’ time at TCEC, they engage with their peers across grade levels, and they build skills as team members and leaders in the classroom, on the field of play, and in their service to the community. Students at TCEC recognize that success comes from recognizing the potential within and taking advantage of learning opportunities to turn that potential into reality.