High school students forge on with getting college credit
In an economy that increasingly requires both academic preparation and technical skills, high school students across the state are gaining both this summer, pandemic notwithstanding.
The state’s Summer College Credit Program provides high school students with access to college-credit courses provided by Iowa’s 15 community colleges in fields aligned to regional workforce needs. Even better, there is no cost to the students or their school districts.
By way of legislation designed to boost career academy programming, 2019 was the first time community colleges had an opportunity to serve high school students during the summer.
Indian Hills Community College was on board at the onset. To meet the needs of students within its 10-county region, Indian Hills went through the Iowa Department of Education process to establish pilot summer programs in health sciences, welding technology, and business, on the Ottumwa campus.
“One of the important things is the legislature has helped with providing the funding to make summer career academies possible,” said Matt Thompson, executive vice president and chief academic officer at Indian Hills Community College, with campuses located in Ottumwa and Centerville. “It created new opportunities for students to start or continue with what they had started during the regular academic year. As we look at the workforce needs of the future, we need to have many high school students looking at career fields that will lead to family-sustaining wages and employment in high-need areas. This has been a real asset.”
Faced with a skilled labor shortage, Iowa employers are looking for ways to cultivate a qualified workforce. Summer College Credit Programs help increase student access to high-quality career and technical (CTE) programs, and align with the state’s Future Ready Iowa initiative, which by 2025 aims to have 70 percent of Iowa’s workforce with education or training beyond high school. In addition, Summer College Credit Programs can help ebb the tide of student loan debt due to the rising costs of more traditional higher education pathways.
Time to start building
With such success in year one, Indian Hills decided to expand programming to the Centerville campus where the Construction Technology program is housed. A main component of the Construction Technology program involves students constructing an entire house, so discussions took place with faculty to see what courses could be offered in the summer to blend students in with what was already happening during the regular academic year.
Without hesitation, Construction Technology faculty were on board and excited about moving forward with establishing the summer Construction Technology Career Academy. Summer students would do some initial preparatory work with faculty and then fold directly into ongoing programming.
“A lot of students begin the program as high school juniors and take classes in the fall and winter, and this allows them to continue on through the summer,” Thompson said. “The way we run the program, you may have high school students, traditional college students, non-traditional college students, a mix of male and female students, and they are all working together. It’s a very enriched environment for them.”
Thompson recently stopped by the construction house site to check on the progress, especially given the schedule setbacks due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Originally, the students were set to have completed a house in March and then begin a new foundation in April, which would have been the earliest they have ever finished constructing a home. Now, students practice social distancing and wear masks on site, and are currently working on painting the siding and on finishing touches inside the house.
“The Construction Technology instructor is a tremendous asset to the program, and has done a great job of working to develop partnerships with school districts,” Thompson said. “He does outreach to develop those relationships to help get programming started. He has been really great at going out and trying to develop a pipeline of students.
“We do concurrent enrollment with Fairfield, Ottumwa, Oskaloosa, and Chariton. In the fall of 2020 we will offer the opportunity at Van Buren Community School District in Keosauqua,” Thompson said.
With the career academy in general, students can complete a program with no student debt and go directly to work if they choose, which does not go unnoticed in the field of Construction Technology where demand for skilled individuals is huge across Iowa and the nation.
“It’s a program designed for two years of education for an Associate of Applied Science degree in Construction Technology. There is a diploma option so that you receive a diploma after year one,” Thompson said. “About half the students move on to year two, about half go right into the workforce, because they can go out and work at family-sustaining wages with a one-year diploma. By-and-large, students who complete a diploma or degree program go right into the workforce and do a great job with a very livable wage.”
Welding it all together
There are roughly 125 Career Academy high school students throughout the regular academic year, with multiple locations where high school Career Academy Welding Technology is offered. Where the Construction Technology program can blend students together, the Welding Technology program has a separate cohort of students that start together and work at the same pace for the summer academy.
“The Summer Career Academy is a way for students to either get ahead or get a start,” Thompson said. “We have students who started the career academy program in the summer and then continue into the program in the fall. Others choose to continue during the summer who would normally not have done so.”
If students begin as a high school junior, they can complete the welding diploma and go right out into the workforce or continue on in the degree program.
“We have a great relationship with the Vermeer Corporation, and C & C Machining in Centerville. Both have hired our students, who are very employable,” Thompson said.
During pandemic, programs pivot with purpose
In mid-March, Indian Hills Community College began alternative delivery of education due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Construction work on the house was brought to a temporary halt, but quality lectures continued using Zoom. Faculty worked to modify programs and create alternative ways through technology to meet student needs, help them remain engaged, maintain competencies, and demonstrate skill mastery.
“Our faculty in the arts and sciences and CTE have really stepped up and developed new ways of delivering education. They have been innovative and very student-centered, student-focused,” Thompson said. “I can’t say enough about the efforts that our faculty have made to call students, and meet them where they can. Accessibility in our area with technology in rural Iowa can sometimes be a challenge, so our faculty have worked with students to figure out how we adapt.”
Thompson says Indian Hills received great direction from public health officials to help bring the students back to campus in early May. Students now go through a screening process upon entering campus which includes a temperature check, answering a series of questions pertaining to COVID-19 exposure and wearing masks. Students also remain in groups of less than 10 in a lab setting.
“I walked over to our auto tech lab on the first day of being back, and was so happy to see everybody masked, and our rule was one vehicle, one student in a rotation,” Thompson said. “Overall, people have really worked to maintain safety and enhanced cleaning processes.”
Thompson emphasizes how these extraordinary circumstances have highlighted the importance of clear communication with the staff and most important, with the students. Staff have been asked to provide clear messaging, beyond what is available on the college website, to students about what and why things are being done the way they are at this time.
“We need to continue the momentum that we have because we are thinking about how we do education differently,” Thompson said. “You have to look at it in a positive way. The positive is we figured out how to adapt in a relatively short amount of time and still provide quality education.”
For example, in the Health Sciences Academy, a high school student can go through a summer career academy and at the end have completed a CNA (Certified Nursing Assistant) certification. If certified during the junior year, a student the next year can work part-time or on weekends as a CNA. They can learn more about health care in general and they can make some money.
But this summer due to the COVID-19 pandemic, students cannot get into the long-term care facilities for CNA work, so instead have maintained taking courses that are in the health-care field sequence along with what they would need for the CNA certification.
“We had students who anticipated graduating from Indian Hills Community College in the middle of May,” Thompson said. “Many of them had jobs lined up already, and so we have the obligation to figure out how to deliver education to them to help them finish, help them move forward with what they came here to do, get the education and find a job, or to transfer on to a university if they are pursuing an arts and sciences degree. That’s what motivates us and helps us develop solutions to overcome the challenges in front of us.”
“There’s always that light bulb moment that you hope a student has, and you never know when that is going to happen,” Thompson said. “It may be what gets them jump started to end up going into a medical profession, or maybe a student learns a skill building a home, or welding, that leads them to starting a new business and staying in Iowa, and having a successful career and employing lots of people themselves someday. That’s why we do what we do.”