MARIETTA, OHIO—Washington State Community College (WSCC), in collaboration with area high school partners, has developed several innovative early college pathways which aim to expand college access to local students. The pathways leverage Ohio’s College Credit Plus (CCP) program which provides free college credits to high school students. In addition to college credit, the new pathways will also give the students the opportunity to earn industry-recognized credentials while still in high school.
Working with Belpre High School and Warren High School, Washington State has developed pathways in robotics, business, criminal justice, and education. The pathways feature college courses that students can complete at their high school during the regular school day. WSCC Early College Coordinator Debbie Gurtis described the pathways as opportunities to encourage students to consider technical degrees.
“Through the CCP early college initiative, we were able to develop these pathways that introduce college courses to students who possibly never considered earning a college degree,” explained Gurtis. CCP is a state initiative designed to offer Ohio 7th through 12th-grade students the opportunity to earn college and high school credits concurrently, at no cost to the student.
“These pathways are another way we are removing barriers to college,” said Gurtis. “Often, students take a class or two and suddenly realize they have the ability to do well.” As a result of this success, Gurtis said these students are more likely to continue on to college and earn a degree.
The pathways also allow students to earn industry-recognized credentials to make them employable, even before they complete a degree or certificate. “We are committed to offering industry credentials within the curriculum because we recognize the value they add to education,” said Gurtis. “Not only are students earning high school and college credit, they can use these credentials to meet their high school graduation requirements.”
The robotics pathway, developed for Belpre High School, rolled out in fall 2021. Among the courses offered: Fundamental of Engineering; Drafting & Design, and Embedded Systems. The Embedded Systems course will result in an Arduino Fundamentals certification.
“This innovative pathway is a great step toward preparing students for in-demand jobs, especially in the manufacturing industry,” said WSCC’s Dean of Engineering, Technology, and Business, George Bilokonsky. “This collaboration also gives these students the benefit of access to our state-of-the-art equipment that isn’t available in the local high schools.”
Belpre City Schools Superintendent Jeff Greenley described the pathway as a means of expanding the vocational opportunities for students of the small school district. “We know that the demands of the 21st century will be very different than what we have experienced and we have been working very hard to provide our students with new and varied educational experiences. At the same time, as a small district, it can be hard for us to have the physical and human capital necessary to give students everything we need. Washington State Community College has been a wonderful partner to us and have provided support, curriculum and oversight to our students this year – we quite simply could not have provided our students this opportunity without them.”
The first cohort of the program included 20 students with significant interest for next year’s program. Greenley proudly shared that one student took the course as an elective with little background in engineering and, as a result of the program, plans to pursue additional engineering work in college when she enrolls next year. “Without WSCC our students would not have been exposed to robotics and engineering and we are excited to see where the program goes in the future.”
During a visit to WSCC last fall, the Belpre robotics students got hands-on experience with the college’s FANUC robots and the fully-automated assembly line. “We used the visit as an opportunity to get the students excited about where this pathway can lead,” said Bilokonsky. Additionally, Washington State is sharing several VEX robots that will be used as a teaching tool in the engineering courses. VEX robots are educational robotic equipment that encourage creativity, teamwork, leadership, and group problem-solving.
To further expand the opportunities for students to earn college credits and credentials, Warren High School will offer two new pathways in fall 2022, criminal justice and education. “We want our kids to get to the job they want as fast as possible after high school,” explained Warren Principal Ryan Lemley. “With this pathway concept, we could get them into high-demand jobs quicker.”
Students who enroll in the criminal justice pathway will be able to earn 15 credit hours, nine of which will be focused directly in the criminal justice field. As they progress through the coursework, they will also earn multiple National Incident Management System (NIMS) certifications, as well as become certified in CPR, First Aid, and Stop the Bleed.
“The certification our students will earn are used by nearly all criminal justice agencies in their day-to-day operations and for critical incidents,” explained WSCC’s Dean of Transfer and Public Services Jona Rinard. “Having these credentials on their resumes allows our students to immediately stand out and be more competitive in the job market.” She went on to say that the pathway will allow students to earn more than 25-percent of the required credits to earn an associate degree in education.
Lemley said the idea for the education pathway was developed when he realized how many students were helping teachers at the nearby elementary and middle schools. “We did some research on the number of our students who go on to become teachers. Once the discussion began with WSCC, we all realized this could be great for kids that might want to enter the education field,” he confirmed.
The criminal justice and education pathways complement Warren’s business pathway that launched in fall 2021. The pathway provides students with the opportunity to take a sequence of courses to earn nearly half of the credits needed for a business management associate degree from Washington State.
Students interested in enrolling in Belpre’s Robotics or Warren’s Criminal Justice or Educations pathways need to submit their College Credit Plus letter of intent to their high school by April 1. Warren’s business pathway, offered in articulation with WSCC, enables students to enroll in courses directly through their high school and ensures a seamless transfer to the college to complete their associate degree.
In the photo: During a visit to Washington State Community College last fall, Belpre High School’s robotics pathway students got hands-on experience with the robots and the fully-automated assembly line. Pictured (from left to right) are BHS students: Carter Norman, Carson Moore, Hailey Burdette, Matthew Rasmussen, and Cody Hess.