Summer days are here again!
What do your summer plans look like? For many kids, summertime means a welcome break, sleeping in and having fun with friends. However, for several Iowa high school students, summer is seen as a valuable opportunity to get ahead in their education and career paths.
For 17-year-old Taylor Claussen, an incoming senior at New Hampton High School, her summer is already set. Along with her plans of working part-time, building her strength and conditioning for volleyball and staying active in her community through Iowa BIG North – an initiative linking businesses and students – Claussen also plans to take the certified nursing assistant (CNA) course at Northeast Iowa Community College through the Summer College Credit Program.
“I like to keep my life active and moving. If I stay busy, I’ll be better set for my future,” Claussen said. “If I stay on this career path in the medical field, by the time I graduate, I’ll already have a year of college done.”
The Summer College Credit Program is an exciting opportunity for incoming ninth through 12th graders to enroll in college-credit courses in career and technical education (CTE) programs that are aligned to in-demand occupations during the summer semester. The courses are provided by Iowa’s 15 community colleges to students who, like Claussen, want to maximize their summer break by experiencing college programming and exploring potential future career fields.
“It is very beneficial for students. They are so thankful to take classes in the summer,” said Katie Gilbert, dean of high school partnerships at Northeast Iowa Community College. “The students are so busy during the academic year, and the summer option provides them with an opportunity to explore courses while not having to worry about so many other commitments.”
As an added benefit, there is no cost to the student or their school district for enrolling in the Summer College Credit Program. Students can experience popular CTE programs, such as CNA, construction and welding courses, in modernized facilities with the latest industry technology.
Many students who may not otherwise have the opportunity to experience CTE programming during the regular school year can explore these hands-on programs during the summer term. Dependent on the needs of the community college and local regional workforce, students can enroll in courses in health sciences, applied sciences, technology, engineering and manufacturing, information solutions, business, management and administration and human services. Similar to concurrent enrollment during the school year, the Summer College Credit Program can provide opportunities for students to get ahead and earn not only college credits but also industry-recognized credentials before they graduate from high school, which is in step with the Governor’s Future Ready Iowa goal to ensure that 70 percent of Iowans have education and training beyond high school by the year 2025.
“Our summer programming is planned around the needs of our 10 county-area businesses,” said Cammie Richards, director of high school programs at Indian Hills Community College. “This summer, we are offering a six-credit construction lab course that fits into the construction program at Indian Hills. If students take this course in the summer academy and then attend our construction academy during their junior and senior years, they will have a chance to earn their construction diploma, making this an opportunity to be highly employable by the end of their high school career.”
Although the Summer College Credit Program is a relatively new endeavor at Iowa’s community colleges, evidence of the program’s momentum and appeal is already being noticed. Since its implementation in 2018, the number of students has grown exponentially. In fact, in between the first and second year, enrollment saw a 66 percent increase, and it is expected to rise again for the third academic year in 2021. The number of programs offered across the state has also increased from 38 programs in academic year 2019 to 49 slated for this year.
For both Indian Hills Community College and Northeast Iowa Community College, the results for the Summer College Credit Program have been off the charts. Indian Hills has noted the highest enrollment in the state for the Summer College Credit Program during the past two years, and they have been able to offer two courses per program strand during their summer semester to 19 participating schools.
“We’ve heard nothing but good comments from our high schools,” Richards said. “We’ve hit the ground running, and we’re not looking back.”
Northeast Iowa Community College also boasts a 92 percent retention rate with their summer program students, and 78 percent of their students earned a B or higher for final grades.
“We had very few students who did not pass (D or lower) due to support from our career coaches, and retention has been phenomenal,” Gilbert said. “The summer semester is a shorter time frame, so it can be more rigorous. It is a big kudos to our instructors.”
The Summer College Credit Program can definitely be the perfect avenue for students such as Claussen to continue their academics. Although June 8 will mark her first foray into the college summer semester, Claussen has previously experienced college curriculum through joint enrollment and believes her work at Northeast Iowa Community College will help her further weigh her potential career paths.
“Taking college courses has helped me see what things I like. I found intro to psychology and medical terminology really interesting,” Claussen said. “Through other courses, I’ve also learned that I like public and motivational speaking, and I’ve been exploring whether that is the path I want to take instead of the medical field.”
For now, though, Claussen is excited to experience more in the nursing and medical fields. She knows that the CNA course will be hard work, and her summer will be busy. But she says it’s worth it and highly encourages other students to take advantage of this opportunity.
“If you have the right work ethic, this will set you on the right path for your career,” she said. “It will help you figure out what you want to do.”