Programs available to high school students in Bulloch, Evans and Screven counties allow them to earn career-specific certificates from Ogeechee Technical College by the time they graduate from high school.
OTC President Dawn Cartee signed new annual agreements for dual enrollment programs Monday morning with the Bulloch County and Evans County school superintendents. Screven County's superintendent was unable to attend, but is expected to sign later, and Screven students do participate.
Not to be confused with joint enrollment, through which high school students take courses on the college's campus, the dual enrollment program provides specific OTC courses at the high schools.
"We have worked with a number of the high schools in Bulloch County, offering welding, criminal justice, some culinary classes, automotive," Cartee said. "I know we have plans for expanding those. We typically do a survey every year asking the students what areas they are most interested in."
Of students who participate, 98 percent graduate, she said.
Officially, Ogeechee Tech this year offered dual enrollment options for certificates in five specializations: automotive chassis technician specialist, basic shielded metal arc welder, nurse aide, prep cook and shampoo technician.
However, the programs are only provided at each school when there is enough demand from students who qualify. Beyond the expression of interest shown in the survey, students must take the COMPASS test, which is used for regular technical college admissions, or alternatively the SAT or ACT, and obtain certain minimum scores for each program.
In the current school year, only the Nurse Aide Certificate program was actually taught.
In Bulloch County, seven students at Statesboro High School and 10 students at Portal High School are enrolled this year, while Southeast Bulloch High School has no current participants, according to information provided by OTC Vice President for Student Affairs Ryan Foley and Vice President for Academic Affairs Charlene Lamar.
Screven County High School has seven students enrolled in the program. Claxton High School currently has no students enrolled, although it has in past years.
College and career prep
In Bulloch County, Superintendent of Schools Charles Wilson and other school system officials have been talking about "college and career readiness." Industry leaders, such as at a recent Society for Human Resource Management panel discussion, address the same topic in terms of "workforce readiness."
Even in a community with a university and two colleges, there is a perceived mismatch between the people seeking jobs and the kinds of jobs available.
Ogeechee Tech's dual enrollment program and joint opportunities can help in addressing this, Wilson told reporters at Monday's signing.
"By working together, our students are getting what they need sooner and more efficiently, whether it be through dual enrollment or joint enrollment, just getting our students to the opportunities that are there for them, and removing those barriers," Wilson said.
But career counseling also has to play a role, from high school down to elementary school, he added, in "educating our students as to what the opportunities are out there for them, what the skills are that are required."
Working with the Bulloch County Schools and in response to feedback from employers, Ogeechee Tech will offer more industrial-type programs in high schools, Cartee said.
"But the little caveat is, if the students aren't interested, it's going to be hard to encourage them to take those classes, so there has to be a combination of the feedback from industry and us doing it, but also how are we going to rally the students to want to take those courses," she said.
With recent legislation, Cartee said, Georgia's Legislature has removed barriers to dual enrollment. High schools no longer lose dual-enrolled students from their attendance counts for state funding, students will no longer use up hours of HOPE grant eligibility, and money is available for tuition assistance and books.
"They've removed every reason why we should not be doing this, so it's a win-win for everybody," she said.
Evans County Schools Superintendent Joy Collins said she wants Claxton students to get involved again in the Nurse Aide Certificate program. She is also interested in whether programs for high school students interested in law enforcement careers could be offered at the Ogeechee Tech's Evans County campus, where its police academy is located.
Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9454.