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Cabarrus Magazine

N.C. Career & College Promise: Ahead of the Game

Jun 01, 2018 08:30AM ● By Jason Huddle

N.C. Career & College Promise: Ahead of the Game

The epitome for just about every parent is his or her child growing up to become a doctor or a lawyer. But who’s going to build their progeny’s clinic or courthouse?

Sure, financial security is often the forethought in wishing one’s child educational and career success but not everyone can sit behind a desk – and there are many who don’t want to.

Conversation around the water cooler now includes the concern over the dwindling numbers of tradespeople. Cabarrus County is experiencing renewed growth post-recession, meaning the need for both skilled and unskilled workers.

Global Risk Insights (GRI) says, “In a January 2017 survey by the Associated General Contractors of America, 73 percent of businesses had a difficult time finding qualified workers and 55 percent identified worker shortages as a bigger concern than federal regulations (41 percent) and low infrastructure investment (18 percent). Economists studying the problem feel things may only worsen unless certain changes occur immediately.”

The dilemma is two-fold. As older workers retire, fewer high school graduates are even considering more labor-intensive trades as a career.

“Another key problem is that, while many business are crying out for a highly skilled workforce, they are either reluctant to pay for or are cutting back on training expenditures. Many firms want skilled workers with the exact qualifications they require but will not pay for the training. This lack of investment in employee development will hurt firms in both the long- and short-term,” GRI says.

“Additionally, there is the situation where more young people are going to college rather than into technical training programs. While a college-educated workforce is a vital component to the American economy, the problem is that this has diverted individuals who could still earn a fairly good salary with excellent benefits and have opportunities for employment.”

GRI refers to this group as needing middle skills. A high school diploma is not enough and a four-year degree is not necessary.

Paula Dibley, Crystal Ryerson and Sarah Walker are members of the team that makes up the Rowan-Cabarrus Community College (RCCC) Career & College Promise (CCP) program.

In a nutshell, the program enables qualified high school juniors and seniors in Cabarrus and Rowan counties to simultaneously take college courses that prepare them for either a four-year college transfer or certification/a diploma in a particular vocational field.

First introduced in the fall of 1983 as the Huskins program (by Rep. Joseph P. Huskins of Iredell County), the legislation gave academically advanced students “college instruction in courses selected by the community college and local high school,” according to the 2010 North Carolina Community College System report.

The program continued to evolve in subsequent years to better serve high school students. “Not long after the Huskins program was initiated, individual students who were at least 16 years of age were also permitted to enroll in community college classes and receive college quarter hour credit,” the report reads. “These credits permitted students to gain a head start on community college certificates, diplomas and associate degrees, and receive credit at four-year institutions willing to accept college transfer credits.”

In 2004, then-N.C. Governor Michael Easley and the General Assembly received funding from the state and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for Learn and Earn. This program expanded upon the high school/community college partnership that let high school students earn both their high school diploma and an associate degree at the end of their fourth or fifth year.

“Then, in 2012, the North Carolina Career & College Promise replaced Huskins, Concurrent Enrollment and Learn and Earn Online dual enrollment programs with the Career & College Promise Program,” Dibley, RCCC’s executive director of marketing & enrollment management, adds.

“It’s been run under multiple names with different parameters for years. There was a period of time when you could come in and take what courses you liked. Today, they are very prescriptive: ‘Here are the four classes that would help you earn your building tech diploma.’ ”

CCP offers two pathways to high-schoolers: the College Transfer Pathway and the Career & Technical Education Pathway. Both pathways are tuition-free.

Eligibility for the College Transfer Pathway requires a weighted (takes into account class difficulty) 3.0 GPA and English, Reading and Math testing (SAT, ACT, PLAN, PSAT). It makes available Associate in Arts or Associate in Science degrees.

Also required for Cabarrus County high school graduation and for the College Transfer Pathway is the completion of a four-course Career Cluster. “Career Clusters identify pathways from secondary school to two- and four-year colleges, graduate school and the workplace, so students can link what they learn in school and what they can do in the future,” according to Cabarrus County Schools’ website.

 “Choosing a Career Cluster should be interesting but not stressful. Students should start out by taking courses they LOVE, and more often than not, these courses lead the student into a naturally evolving sequence of courses that allow them to explore their interest at a deeper level as they lay a foundation for future learning.”

Cabarrus County Schools held a CCP presentation at Cox Mill High School in February. One of the

considerations stressed to students was taking the program seriously. CCP marks the beginning of a permanent college transcript, so failing courses negatively impacts the possibility of college financial aid if the student is hoping to transfer to a four-year institution.

The Career & Technical Education (CTE) Pathway relies more on high school guidance counselors and principals. If a student’s GPA falls below 3.0, the high school can still recommend him or her for CTE. Having completed prerequisite high school courses that tie in with the career pathway is vital as well.

Courses offered through CTE run the gamut and include Automotive Technology Systems, Computer-Integrated Machining, Cosmetology, Criminal Justice Technology, Nurse Aide and Welding Technology among a host of others. While some courses are offered online, many require lab time and are held on one of the RCCC campuses.

 “CCP is embedded in each high school; we’re in the high schools quite a bit. We have what we call our assigned high schools,” Ryerson, RCCC’s marketing and enrollment manager explains. “We work with the guidance counselor, and I will basically meet with students to get them into the right program. Then they transition into our programs here.

“The high school counselor is the one that decides on eligibility. They have to verify whether the student can take the courses. The high school can also override. We might have an application but can’t do anything without the approval of the principal or a designee. It’s the same for private or home school students. We have to make sure courses fit into their schedule.”

“Each course is designed to be a term (16 weeks). Some are eight weeks,” Dibley says. “All Cabarrus County and Rowan County high schools offer the CTE program, all courses are funded by the state and Cabarrus County provides help with books.

“More courses are offered in the fall and spring but students can take courses during the summer. There are evening classes after the school day for those taking Automotive. There’s an IT mobile academy at Cox Mill and Salisbury High School has a CTE Mechatronics program. We partner with high school guidance counselors to teach it there; our instructors go on-site.”

Dibley goes on to explain why some students may have to make more than a short drive to their classes, but it helps prepare them for full-time work after graduation. “In 1963, there was one little building at RCCC. It’s grown into this really cool technical center but technical high-dollar locations are not replicated everywhere,” she advises. “Nursing is offered in Cabarrus County. Light-duty Diesel is in Cabarrus County. This is industry-recognized equipment.”

Courses are broken down into a list of required classes/credit hours to obtain certification or a diploma and area employers have definitely taken notice of the trades being taught through RCCC.

“Welders can make $60,000 (annually). Employers are pulling students out before course completion,” Dibley says.

“There’s a need for machinists right now. There are 300 jobs in machining waiting and we have 20 students,” Ryerson adds.

The ladies also offer some advice when approaching these programs, like students taking courses toward high school graduation early so they can come to RCCC and take a full load. Students can earn certification and then take classes outside the curriculum.

“Earn local articulated credits – courses taken at the high school level that may count as college credit. Students are ahead of the pack when entering college after high school, Dibley says. “A lot of parents are spending a lot of money for their child to take prerequisites. Students need a transferrable degree to go on to, say, UNC-C. We guide them to take the proper courses if they want to go on for two more years.”

With the growth of expansive health care systems locally, RCCC will offer new Career & College Promise courses in the fall. “The official names for these programs are Therapeutic and Diagnostic Services/Nurse Aide but with concentrations in Nursing, Occupational Therapy, Physical Therapy and Radiography,” Ryerson shares. “We are referring to these pathways as Pre-Nursing Pathway, Pre-Occupational Pathway, Pre-Physical Therapy Pathway and Pre-Radiography Pathway.”

Because of the demand for enrollment, prospective students must go through testing to earn their seats in a health care program. Called the competitive admissions process, eligibility requirements include English, Reading, Math and Algebra competency testing, an Eligibility Review Session, applicable high school coursework, then conditional acceptance followed by current CPR certification, a background report/drug screening and a physical exam.

CCP classes may take place at any of RCCC’s campuses, depending on the course of study. The North Campus is located on Jake Alexander Boulevard in Salisbury; the South Campus is on Trinity Church Road in Concord; the Cabarrus Business & Technology Center is on Concord Parkway N. in Concord; and the North Carolina Research Campus and West Avenue Center are in Kannapolis.

The prospect of a good-paying job without the high cost of tuition at a four-year college is very appealing and makes good sense. According to CollegeCalc, “The average annual in-state college tuition in North Carolina was $10,966 for the 2016-2017 academic year.”

For high school students serious about their future, enrollment in programs like CCP statistically makes them more likely to graduate from high school and earn a college degree. And with the level of competition in the workplace, qualifying for a trade earlier than most gives graduates an edge when applying for a job.

Other benefits of CCP include building stronger young adults, if you will. They develop management skills, a personal work ethic, they learn to adapt to college life sooner than their high school classmates and they take on responsibility.

“We had 813 students total enrolled in the Career & College Promise Program for Spring 2018; 179 students are currently enrolled in a Career & Technical Pathway as of Spring 2018. We anticipate both of these numbers to grow for this upcoming fall semester,” Ryerson says.

That’s good news for a region that continues to grow and needs a talented workforce.

Article By: Kim Cassell

Photos Courtesy: RCCC

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