In an effort to improve both public secondary education, and college accessibility and affordability, North Carolina's Department of Public Instruction (DPI) initiated Learn and Earn in June 2004. Learn and Earn employs a three-pronged strategy to achieve its dual mission.
The creation of Learn and Earn early college high schools is one component of the DPI's educational reform program. At these schools, of which there are 63 located on college campuses throughout North Carolina, students take both high school and college level courses. After no more than five years of study, students earn a high school diploma and either two years of college credit or an associate's degree, at no expense. For students who do not live near a Learn and Earn high school, Learn and Earn Online—the second component of the umbrella initiative—offers students the opportunity to take a variety of online college courses at no charge so that they may also earn both high school credit as well as an associate's degree or two years of college credit transferable to any state university. The third pillar of its Learn and Earn initiative also offers Education Access Reward North Carolina (EARN) grants, a two-year financial assistance package which, in combination with other contributories such as federal Pell Grants, replaces the need for student loans—and the resulting debt—if the student maintains an agreed-upon grade point average and participates in work-study programs.
In the 2007 academic year, over 5,183 students in North Carolina attended Learn and Earn high schools and approximately 20,000 participated in Learn and Earn Online. In June 2008, a projected 12,500 students will qualify for EARN Grants to support post-secondary study beginning in September 2008. In its 2007 session, the state legislature demonstrated its support for, confidence in, and commitment to making Learn and Earn programming available to students throughout North Carolina: $33 million was appropriated to fund 70 additional Learn and Earn High Schools, $22.1 million was included in the 2008 state budget to ensure that Learn and Earn Online courses were available in all North Carolina high schools by academic year 2008-2009, and $100 million was earmarked to support EARN Grants for an additional 25,000 qualified students.
Governor Easley of North Carolina has also been involved in disseminating information on Learn and Earn efforts nationally. Invited by the National Governors Association (NGA), Governor Easley has led numerous dialogues with his counterparts. In May 2007, a summit entitled "The Silent Epidemic" was hosted jointly by MTV, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the NGA to launch a national movement with North Carolina at the epicenter to improve high school graduate rates in America.