Summertime brings college course opportunities for high schoolers
Seventeen-year-old Jenna Frerichs knows a good deal when she sees one. This summer, she enrolled in the certified nursing assistant course at Iowa Lakes Community College, which is allowing her to earn valuable credentials to jump start her future career in health care. And most important, she is getting to do it all for free.
Moving into its fourth year of operation, Iowa’s Summer College Credit Program (SCCP) offers high school students like Jenna the opportunity to access college-credit coursework in career and technical education (CTE) programs at no cost during the summer semester. SCCP is provided through an agreement between Iowa’s 15 community colleges and local school districts and is funded partially through a state appropriation of $600,000.
Iowa students entering grades 9-12 are eligible to participate in SCCP, and each year, demand for the program grows.
“During the past three years, nearly 3,700 students have participated,” said Jen Rathje, education consultant for the Iowa Department of Education. “We have seen tremendous growth in the Summer College Credit Program each year since its inception. In fact, out of 335 high schools, 194 public schools and 21 accredited nonpublic schools have had students participate.”
Currently, there are 38 SCCP programs running this summer, and 12 of those programs – like certified nursing assistant (CNA) and welding – provide opportunities for students to immediately earn a recognized credential.
For Spirit Lake High School senior Jenna, having the chance to complete the CNA course and earn her certification during the summer is a huge opportunity and hits close to home.
“Not only does this give me an opportunity to take college classes when I have more free time, but it’s also shown me how much people need CNAs,” she said. “My grandma is in assisted living and learning what all CNAs do to help people warms my heart.”
At Iowa Lakes, Jenna’s CNA course requires 75 hours of instruction and includes in-person learning in clinical, lab and classroom work. Other SCCP courses offered at Iowa Lakes include computer programming, business administration and management, and college officials agree that students should take advantage of the benefits of SCCP.
“Sometimes, with all of the studies and extracurricular activities, students don’t have time to take college courses during the regular school year,” said Kari Hampe, director of high school partnerships at Iowa Lakes Community College. “Summertime provides more flexibility to take classes and try a course, and they can get their tuition, books and test fees covered.”
Courses taken through SCCP can help high school students explore different career paths early and get more direction on what areas they enjoy and are skilled at. SCCP also provides opportunities for students to earn college credits and industry-recognized credentials that are helpful for future degrees or even entering employment after high school graduation, which can help strengthen Iowa’s overall workforce.
“With the CNA, students can get out there and start working right away,” Hampe said. “Since there is a shortage of CNAs statewide, there will be a lot of job opportunities for CNAs well into the future.”
Jenna’s CNA course runs through mid-July. Her new skills will come in handy for her volunteer work at the local hospital’s emergency department as well as at her part-time job as a lifeguard. She would like to pursue a career in radiology and plans to attend the University of Iowa after graduation.
Overall, Jenna has found great value in her CNA course and SCCP opportunity, and she encourages other Iowa high schoolers to take advantage of the program.
“Try out one class, even if you’re on the fence,” she said. “It’s beneficial since you can earn college credits, and it’s free to the student.”