Gary Udouj, Director of Career Education and District Innovation at Fort Smith Public Schools in Arkansas, says audiovisual tools are one of the key technologies supporting dual-enrollment students in his district.

Mar 19 2024
Hardware

More High School Students Are Getting a Jump on College Credits Now

Schools offer a variety of technologies to support a range of dual-credit learning opportunities.

At Fort Smith Public Schools in Arkansas, a dual-enrollment program offers high school juniors and seniors the chance to get a head start on their collegiate careers.

“Our students get hands-on learning and career readiness” in fields where studies have identified local workforce shortages, says Gary Udouj, director of career education and district innovation at FSPS. “They also get college credit at no cost, which the parents like very much.”

Dual-enrolled students at FSPS reflect a nationwide trend of high schoolers taking community college courses — nearly 1 million, according to the latest data from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. Through dual enrollment, K-12 schools may partner with two- or four-year institutions to offer either technical, career-oriented classes or general academic coursework.

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At FSPS, Udouj says the need for programs like these became clear after the local chamber of commerce commissioned a study looking at the workforce needs in the area. It highlighted four areas of highest need: advanced manufacturing, health sciences, IT and skilled trades, and construction technology.

“We had an aging workforce in those areas. The average machinist was 55 years old!” Udouj explains. “So, there was a real need for the school district and the community to pull together and build a pipeline to get students interested in these careers.”

DISCOVER: Dual-credit students get hands-on manufacturing experience.

Dual-Enrolled Students Save Time and Money

Through dual enrollment, students may travel to a college campus or study at their high school with college-accredited faculty. Either way, they earn college credits — typically, for free — while completing their high school work.

“They’re able to kill two birds with one stone, and it saves their families money,” says Julie Soberanis, director of guidance, counseling, and college and career readiness at Irving (Texas) Independent School District. With almost 100 dual-credit courses and a range of industry certifications available, she says, “in the 2023 school year, we saved our families about $700,000 in tuition.”

In fall 2022, Fort Smith Public Schools opened the doors of the Peak Innovation Center, a stand-alone building that supports about 400 dual-enrolled students. A collaborative program of the district and the University of Arkansas – Fort Smith, the center offers a variety of courses in advanced manufacturing, health sciences and IT.

Through a strong relationship with UAFS, “we were able to make the Peak Innovation Center available to over 22 school districts in our region, rather than focusing only on Fort Smith Public School students,” Udouj says. “We’ve become a regional hub for career and technical education.”

Unlike traditional CTE courses, Udouj says, “at Peak, students come for half a day rather than just one period, so we’re able to take a deeper dive into the subject matter.”

In Irving ISD, which works in partnership with Dallas College to offer 80 dual-credit courses, Soberanis says the focus is on knocking out the prerequisites — such as English, history, math and science — that students will need when they start college. Students who move at a brisk pace can even earn an associate degree or industry certifications before they graduate from high school.

The Types of Technology That Lead to Dual-Enrollment Success

Whether for basic humanities courses or CTE-type classes, technology plays a key role in supporting dual-enrollment efforts.

“Technology is not just a facilitator but also a crucial component in the implementation, management and enhancement of dual-enrollment programs,” says Kathleen Schofield, executive director of the Northeast Florida Regional STEM2 Hub, an organization that provides resources and expertise to support school districts’ dual-enrollment efforts.

“A solid internet connection is critical for a successful program,” Schofield says. Schools need networking equipment and bandwidth to support connectivity.

In CTE courses, specific tech can be a boon. Science, technology, engineering and math labs, for example, can be outfitted to support hands-on experiences in physics, engineering and other sciences. For more general coursework, “updated, modern computers and software are essential,” she says. Students need capable devices and access to specialized software to support courses in graphic design, business management or allied health programs.

DISCOVER: Schools are designing high-tech spaces to emulate the real work world.

Overall, the right technology helps ensure these programs “meet the academic rigor and relevance required for student success,” Schofield says.

At Fort Smith Public Schools, Udouj’s team put about $3 million worth of equipment in the Peak Innovation Center’s ABB Automation and Industrial Technology labs. The center also boasts a 12,000-square-foot Gene Haas Computer Integrated Machining Lab with 12 host computer numerical control machines to prepare students to work in modern manufacturing environments.

CDW helped the district acquire multimedia equipment to support a video wall and interactive kiosks. An NEC LCD video wall display includes 55-inch, LED-backlit narrow-bezel screens in a main section, and two additional screens on the side.

Kathleen Schofield
Technology is not just a facilitator but also a crucial component in the implementation, management and enhancement of dual-enrollment programs.”

Kathleen Schofield Executive Director, Northeast Florida Regional STEM2 Hub

“Thanks to a grant from the OGE Energy Foundation, we’re able to use this for guest speaker presentations, student presentations and messaging that goes on year-round,” Udouj says. When students in grades five through eight come to tour the center, “we can show them videos or PowerPoints on those screens before they tour the building.”

At Irving ISD, where the focus is on core courses, personal devices are key. “All of our students have Chromebooks or tablets, which enable them to get access to material that they need for dual credit,” says Director of Career and Technical Education Zach Moore.

The district’s dual-enrollment networking program “has specific networking equipment that we can use to simulate what’s happening in the cyber world,” Moore says. That includes Acer desktop PCs, Dell and HP desktops, and Dell laptops for students who need to practice hardware skills. Most of the lab equipment is from Cisco, including Catalyst 2960 Series switches, Catalyst 2960-Plus Series switches, 1941 Series routers and RV130W wireless multifunction VPN routers.

WATCH: Educators at Irving Independent School District design modern classrooms.

The Basics of a Successful Dual-Enrollment Program

To offer dual enrollment, schools need to ensure their students are still hitting their high school benchmarks. “Our college core classes, such as English and math, correspond to our high school courses that are required for graduation,” Soberanis says. “They’re still required to take the same state testing.”

Students also need to demonstrate they are ready for college-level work. At Irving ISD and elsewhere, a cadre of college-credentialed teachers supports dual enrollment. CTE teachers bring industry experience and certifications, while for non-CTE, “it’s typically a master’s degree plus 12 hours in the area they’re going to teach, though it may vary from college to college,” Soberanis says. “This is the best scenario for us because our students have our teachers teaching them.”

For those looking to offer dual enrollment, it’s important to have strong lines of communication with both the academic partners and the local business community.

It also makes sense to engage actual learners in the early stages. “Survey the students to see what their interests are, and survey parents as well to find out what they’d like to see offered,” Soberanis says. This helps ensure the dual-enrollment classes will actually meet the needs of students and the community at large.

Photography by Shane Bevel
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