By on 12.7.20 in Education

Adaeze Ibeanu is a rising sophomore at UNC double majoring in Psychology and Political Science. She recently started interning with Carolina Demography, where she has been monitoring legislative committee meetings that address education in North Carolina. She will continue this work when the General Assembly convenes for the long session in January. Most recently, she has researched and written a blog post about Cooperative Innovative High Schools in NC – one of which she attended in Durham.

What are they?

Found across the state, Cooperative Innovative High Schools (CIHS) are public schools that allow students to enroll in higher education while simultaneously completing high school requirements. CIHS’s typically target at risk students, first-generation college students, and/or “students who would benefit from accelerated learning opportunities.” Upon graduation, students typically receive a high school diploma and either an associate degree, a certificate, or transferrable college credits. Attending a CIHS prepares students for college coursework and ultimately, helps reduce the cost associated with higher education.

Originally funded by the Gates Foundation and the General Assembly in 2004, CIHS’s have grown and North Carolina has become a leader of the model across the nation. With a cap of 100 students per grade level, CIHS’s allow for a small student to teacher ratio and more individual student attention. Individual student attention is crucial in helping with the retention and graduation rates.

How many are there?

Currently, North Carolina has 132 CIHS’s across the state.  As of 2019, there were 27,001 students attending Cooperative Innovative High Schools (CIHS) out of 431,499 public high school students, which is approximately 6% of students across the state.

Which counties in NC have the largest % of CIHS students?

Tyrrell, Hyde, Madison, Northampton, and Camden are the five NC counties with the largest percentage of CIHS students.

Column graph showing College Readiness as measured by the ACT. The state of NC has a 56% readiness, and Cooperative Innovative High Schools show an 81% readiness.

How do CIHS students perform?

The CIHS FAQ on the NC Department of Public Instruction (DPI) website notes that in the 2018-19 school year:

  • 95% of CIHS students have outperformed the state average cohort graduation rate; many are at 100%.
  • 90% of CIHS students have met or exceeded growth.
  • 91% of CIHS students received A or B school performance grades

Attending a CIHS: A personal experience

Attending a CIHS was a unique experience that I was fortunate to be afforded. I attended an early college that was partnered with a four-year university rather than a technical college, so although I did not graduate with an associate’s degree, I did amass a number of credits equivalent to two years of college coursework.

Because CIHS’s are notoriously rigorous, there is a heavy emphasis on getting new students acclimated to the climate. My school did this in the form of an intense freshman orientation; we spent an entire week together before the start of the school year learning about helpful habits and learning more about our cohort. There the faculty and administration stressed that our coursework from then on would be harder than we had previously experienced. Though we felt daunted about what was to come, but it did help ease the adjustment period.

More than getting us ready for our experience to come, the most important lesson we learned was camaraderie. It would be only the 100 of us from that point on until graduation; no transfers or new students would enter the cohort. The small class size encouraged close peer relationships and built the foundation of teamwork that would aid us in postsecondary education.

In the four years of high school at my CIHS, our schedule emphasized completing college courses, thus we only took the required high school courses necessary for graduation and started taking college courses in the ninth grade. Because we were partnered with a four-year university, the amount of courses we were allowed to register for were endless and we were given the freedom to take courses that appealed to us. I took many math and political science courses, so I found myself specializing in those subjects. An appealing aspect of my high school were the freedoms. The freedoms associated with college, particularly the attendance policy, scheduling, and ability to develop our passions, also belonged to us. The campus and its classrooms were our oysters and we high school students were its pearls. We would sit side by side with students well into their college careers and be treated just the same. We were granted the opportunity to learn from professors with the highest degrees and conducting research in the field they were teaching.

While it was a great experience, we were often reminded that other students did not have the opportunity to attend such academically driven schools. In a county with thousands of students in each grade level, only 400 students per year were able to attend CIHS’s. Due to many families wanting to place their children in CIHS’s, lotteries and caps are implemented. I find it difficult to accept that students are denied simply because of chance. College readiness should not be determined by which schools you attend. Looking to the future, I hope to see the implementation of certain CIHS’s policies in traditional public schools and the improvement of student and teacher welfare in all schools.


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