North Carolina has been given the innovator award by the Southern Growth Policies Board.
The state is being recognized for a high school program that links practical job skill training with college-level academics.
The award will be given in June at a conference in St. Louis.
Learn and Earn was supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
The state has 33 high schools participating in the early college program. The schools are located on community college or university campuses and students earn college credit while getting practical skills.