Date of Award



© 2021 Reginald L. Towns

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)



First Advisor

Michelle Collay

Second Advisor

Bryan Corbin

Third Advisor

Ronald H. Brown


The study documented how first-generation African American college graduates who attended an Early College program in North Carolina describe the benefits of this educational experience. There are many different types and structures of the Early College Program concept, that is, programs where high school students earn college credits. Students taking courses at a community college may leave with an associate’s degree while students attending a college or university will graduate from high school with transferable college credit. Students that attend high schools with Early College programs may finish their last two years of high school on a college campus and earn college credits that may be transferred to a community college or a four-year university (U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, What Works Clearinghouse 2014).

This researcher sought to discern how first-generation African American college graduates who attended an Early College program in North Carolina describe the benefits. Previous research has shown many successes of Early College programs throughout the southern region of the United States. Previous research indicated that students who attend an Early College Program graduate from high school at higher rates than students from traditional high schools as well as enroll into and graduate from college at higher rates. This research contributes to the knowledge on effectiveness of Early College Programs and provided additional findings that serve as valuable information to stakeholders, such as school districts, local, state and federal governments, and private foundations.

This researcher used theories of Human Capital Theory (HCT), Critical Race Theory (CRT), and Individual Agency to interpret the experiences of the ten first generation African American college graduates who attended an Early College program in North Carolina. The data suggest graduates recognized the importance of earning their college degree. Participants described the role of the Early College program in preparing them for college and the workforce. Being a marginalized person because of the color of their skin, the participants’ responses were also viewed through the lens of CRT. Participants believed the Program prepared them to rise above their social position and persist to earn their college degree. Individual Agency was evident in the support of the family which played a major role in the participant’s ability to complete a college degree, but it was more so the individual’s fortitude and their inner strength or their agency that made obtaining their college degree possible.

First generation, minority, and low-income students are the target populations for programs to help them realize their dream of graduating from high school, gaining admission to college, and earning their college degree. For this to happen, bridge type programs such as TRIO, Upward Bound, GEAR UP, and the Early College program can be offered as opportunities to this population with enhanced marketing and awareness. In addition, stakeholders such as school districts, government agencies, and philanthropists can use the data collected from this research study to make informed decisions to continue to invest in bridge programs such as Early College programs.


Ed.D. Dissertation