Program gives students a leg up (part 2)
At 19 years old, Sergio Sandoval is set up for success. He is on track to have not one, but two associate of applied science (AAS) degrees in the automotive repair field by mid-2022. And he’s done it all without having to pay a cent in tuition.
How did he do it? Simple. He started his college courses prior to graduating from Osceola’s Clarke Community High School in 2019 through a joint enrollment opportunity known as concurrent enrollment. This allowed him to enroll into college-level courses for the automotive collision repair and refinishing program at Southwestern Community College (SWCC) at no cost to him.
“I’ll have two diplomas and two AAS degrees, so they’ll help me find a job,” Sandoval said. “There are many options like a small-town shop, manufacturing plant or collision repair shop. I’m looking at a dealership for now as it has more chances to move up to something bigger.”
Although Sandoval’s ambitious path to a future career in automotive refinishing seems straightforward, it wasn’t always the case.
“I’ve always had an interest in cars,” Sandoval said. “When I was young, I would go with my dad on a drive and look at vehicles. But I didn’t know it was what I wanted to do.”
Career exploration is a major part of joint enrollment since students can often take college classes for little to no cost to them prior to graduating from high school and can see what career field options are right for them. For Sandoval, this was extremely helpful in determining what niche in the automotive industry he wanted to pursue.
“I actually enrolled in an automotive course my junior year, but I didn’t like it,” he said. “It was only automotive repair and not collision. They offered collision my senior year, and that’s more my thing. I was one of the first two participants in that program.”
Sandoval’s automotive collision repair and refinish courses were offered to him as a career academy, a career-oriented program of study that links high school career and technical education to a postsecondary education program. Additionally, the courses and skills needed for this potential career field were added to his individual career and academic plan to help assess his next steps and identify any barriers. Combined with the advantages of career exploration through joint enrollment, these opportunities and supports provided Sandoval with a clearer pathway to his future.
“I didn’t really know what I wanted to do,” he said. “The plan and my course at SWCC helped me start thinking about what I wanted to do after high school. Before, I was living day-by-day, not thinking about my future. It was a big help.”
Joint enrollment is a benefit for any student looking to jump start a career path, but Sandoval, who is Latino, believes that it is a must for anyone who has ambition and wants to increase employability skills, especially students of color or first-generation students.
“In my case, neither of my parents did any post-high school studies,” he said. “They do pretty well in life, but I’ve always wanted to strive to do more. (Joint enrollment) is an opportunity in life, and everyone, including minorities, should take advantage of it. It’s a chance to get out of the high school building and try something out. If you don’t like it, you can try something else.”
Reaching students, including those who are racially diverse, for joint enrollment programs has been a priority for SWCC officials. And they believe their model of personalization and individual attention has been a benefit in the recruitment and post-high school retention of their students.
“It’s the little things that make the biggest difference,” said Lindsay Stoaks, SWCC’s vice president of instruction. “Our faculty and staff play a key role in identifying and breaking down barriers. We don’t let students fall through the cracks.”
Individual counseling has been a large component of SWCC’s success in helping students of color and enhancing a personalized experience. To assist, a staff member meets with career academy students at the start of their academic career to complete an advising assessment, which helps address any barriers early.
“We want to know what barriers are in the way of success,” Stoaks said. “We look at transportation, opportunities for carpooling, work-school balance, anything that can help increase success and retention for each student.”
SWCC maintains strong relationships with the 16 school districts in its region and works directly with them to spread the word on joint enrollment. One federally funded initiative, TRIO Talent Search, has helped SWCC reach more individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds who have the potential to succeed in higher education. The program provides academic, career and financial counseling to its participants and encourages them to graduate from high school and continue on to postsecondary education. The TRIO Talent Search program has particularly helped them reach two school districts, Clarke and Lenox Community Schools, both of which have higher Hispanic and Latino populations.
“At Clarke, the TRIO Talent Search has helped pair upperclassmen with younger students to serve as peer tutors. Approximately 35 percent of Clarke’s TRIO Talent Search participants are Hispanic and Latino,” Stoaks said. “Additionally, TRIO Talent Search holds a Saturday school in Lenox where middle school and high school students can work with teachers and peer tutors on assignments and make-up coursework. These events have significantly helped student success and get the word out on the benefits of joint enrollment.”
Stoaks says TRIO Talent Search helps provide an overview of joint enrollment to all of their student participants and highlights pathways to the programs that are available to them. Students also increase their financial literacy and understand the cost benefits of participating in joint enrollment.
“We keep in contact with students and their parents to let them know how many credits they’ve earned while in joint enrollment,” Stoaks said. “It’s amazing to show them how much tuition money they’ve saved.”
Sandoval is certainly a model for Iowa’s students of color looking to use joint enrollment. Since his graduation from Clarke High, he has continued his career and academic journey at SWCC and has seen much success. Along with his credentials and AAS degrees in automotive collision repair and refinishing and automotive repair technology, he has won two awards. Most notably, he placed first in the secondary division of automotive refinishing technology at the 2019 Iowa SkillsUSA championships, and he has received multiple scholarships. However, having so many achievements apparently comes at a cost; he no longer remembers how many scholarships he’s received.
“It’s somewhere between 15-20. I’ve lost count,” he said. “It’s been great. I haven’t had to pay for anything at all.”