Southern early college program may help with low college-going rate

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LOGAN, W.Va. — One of the answers toward improving West Virginia’s decreasing college-going rate may be in the classrooms of Southern West Virginia Community and Technical College in Logan.

The college will soon start another semester of its Early College Academy where high school students from Logan, Mingo and Lincoln counties take college classes in the mornings and return to their high schools for an afternoon schedule.

Pamela Alderman

Southern WV President Pamela Alderman said the program had humble beginnings three years ago with only 10 students but grew to more than 220 students last spring.

“They are taking classes four days a week and they are acclimated into the classes with other college students, regular college students,” Alderman said.

Currently the county boards of education and Southern WV are taking care of the cost. Mingo and Logan county school systems pay for the bus transportation. Lincoln County students have a branch of Southern WV in their school building in Hamlin. The classes can start as early as the second semester of a student’s sophomore year.

These 5 students earned college degrees before high school graduation. (Photo/SWVCTC)

Alderman said the academy has already produced results.

“This past spring we had five students graduate from Southern with three associate degrees and one certificate degree prior to graduating from high school,” Alderman said.

Two of those students have transferred to four-year colleges or universities while the other three have enrolled in Southern’s nursing education program.

“We are seeing that these students are wanting to come on and get a head start with their education, complete their education, and then go on to the workforce and go on to their careers,” she said.

State Higher Education Chancellor Dr. Sarah Armstrong Tucker said that’s the kind of ‘out of the box’ thinking that’s needed to increase the college-going rate in West Virginia.

“What they’re doing at Southern through the Early College Academy is exactly the type of work we need to be doing,” Tucker told MetroNews. “I applaud them for making it possible for high school students to earn degrees so early in their educational careers. I’m so excited about the successes they’ve already seen, and look forward to helping create more of these opportunities.”

The latest college-going rate, 45.9% for the public high school graduates in West Virginia in 2021, was released last week. The rate represents a 2.3% percent decrease from the Class of 2020.

Dr. Sarah Armstrong Tucker

Tucker said Friday on MetroNews “Talkline” she believes West Virginia is small enough to attack the various issues that will begin to increase the numbers.

She said the message should not be “you should go to college” but it should be “what do you want for your future?”

“It does not need to be a four-year degree. It could be a short-term training program. It could be a two-year degree. It could be a four-year degree. It could be a master’s degree or a PHD but they need to get some form of post-secondary education to solidify their future,” Tucker said.

At Southern, Alderman said the program is eliminating hurdles that first generation college students usually face.

“We are helping them with tutoring, life-skills, FAFSA applications and those type of things. That’s going to make an easier transition for them to go into the other colleges or to us,” Alderman said.

There’s already been discussion between Alderman and other community and technical college presidents about duplicating the Early College Program on their campuses.

“This is a model we can use statewide,” Alderman said. “This is a model that will increase the college-going rate.”

Tucker said it’s her hope that over the next year a high school student survey can be completed and they can begin to use other existing programs to address the low rate. She said things like the existing Gear-up program, the TRIO programs that exist at some colleges and universities, First Lady Cathy Justice’s Community in Schools program and the College Ambassadors program with the West Virginia Education Alliance could all help.

Tucker said the state’s job creators also need to get involved.

“If we had business and industry participation, participation by the local chambers (Chambers of Commerce) who would be willing to work with the local high schools and say ‘look here are these great jobs that we have available right here in your county but we need you to have some form of education past high school in order to take these jobs’ I think it would be a huge benefit to our state and to our students,” Tucker said.

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