Will High Schools Be A Relic Of The Past?

Cowan--Making The Grade--NC high schools
Cowan--Making The Grade--NC high schools

We're often told that problems aren't always as big as they seem, and that a little creativity may bring a solution.

So when North Carolina's governor confronted his big problem — one of the worst high school dropout rates in the country — his creativity kicked into overdrive, CBS News correspondent Lee Cowan reports.

"One way to get the high school dropout rate down is to do away with high school," says Gov. Michael Easley.

Sound far-fetched? The Legislature didn't think so.

"When I put this in the budget for the first time, I thought there'd be a big fight over it. And everybody said 'this is a great idea, let's do it,'" the governor says.

North Carolina didn't actually eliminate high schools. It just put some of them on steroids. They're called "Early Colleges" — high schools located on college campuses where students can take high school history and college-level English on the same day. Before they know it, student not only get a high school diploma, but a two-year associate's degree — all by the time they're 18.

It's a jumpstart that saves time and resources, and here's the kicker: It's all free.

Student Chad Lewis says it's "not a bad deal at all."

Lewis wanted to work on big rig trucks, but said high school bored him. Now he can study history and hydraulics at the same time — and he already has a job.

"It really gives you a reason for getting up in the morning, something you want to do, something that you felt that a lot of people supported you through, that you really want to go do," Lewis explains.

The state needs all the help it can get to build a new labor force. In the last decade, 60 percent of North Carolina's low-skilled jobs have gone overseas. High-tech companies are hiring, but a high school diploma usually won't get you past the receptionist.

Ashley Williams was worried that she couldn't afford a degree, but at just 16 she's cruising through college English — about to become the first person in her family to get a college degree.

"I have a whole lot of people who look at me as being something big, and a whole lot of people who believe in me, so it's like, I want to do something big," Williams says. "I have to."

It's not without drawbacks. There's no prom, no locker gossip, no cheerleading tryouts at the school. They're all sacrifices to be made for that something big. In Williams' case, she wants to become a city manager.

And after? "A governor" — and "maybe president" after that.

"She's intimidating, she's so smart," Easley says.

If he has his way, North Carolina may eventually be the first state in the country where traditional high school is a quaint relic of the past.