When the pandemic initially forced colleges to move to online instruction, Tyler Junior College (TJC) in Texas was able to pivot quickly. The college held successful registration events online and students were able to meet virtually with their high school counselors as well as college specialists to help them with enrollment. All of the college’s registration forms were converted to digital forms with digital signatures in order to make it easier for students to complete the enrollment process. TJC’s Distance Education program provided quick training and assistance for faculty as they adjusted to this new method of teaching.
However, online classes were not viable for certain courses with hands-on learning requirements, and enrollments naturally dipped. TJC took last year to reimagine its career and workforce dual credit partnerships. As local high schools began to re-open their doors, TJC made arrangements to offer full certificate programs in high schools and their K–12 partners have been enthusiastic so far.
Expanding partnerships to create more opportunities
Tyler Junior College already offered welding, automotive, fire tech, and EMT certificates through some local high school partners, but they wanted to increase opportunities for high school students. Other programs were previously only offered on the TJC campus, and schools were required to transport students back and forth. Through the partnership, the college aims to help schools or consortiums develop centers which can serve a greater population of students.
In Texas, workforce “programs of study” allow high schools to partner with colleges to get students on a path to a degree or a career. As a result of new partnerships, TJC can now offer criminal justice, culinary arts, business certificates, and IT on high school campuses. They are currently working with two school districts to add IT networking programs for the next academic year in collaboration with ATD through the regional Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) project. The college is also looking to add licensed vocational nursing (LVN), early childhood education, manufacturing, medical office management, and drafting/engineering.
As a result of the expanding offerings in workforce trainings, dual credit enrollments for the 2021–22 academic year may increase by 6 to 7 percent over last year. Fall dual credit is typically more focused on academic courses, so TJC anticipates an even better spring, when the bulk of enrollment increases are expected to come from career technical education (CTE) programs.
Challenges and areas for growth
Some college faculty have pushed back against these partnerships, arguing that high school students are young and may lack the maturity needed for some of these programs. To address these concerns, TJC works with high schools to identify students who are “ready” to start these programs. For example, if a student wants to start the LVN program, they will need to have successfully completed a course in anatomy and physiology, demonstrate knowledge of medical terminology, and sit for an interview with nursing faculty.
The greatest concern for TJC and the school districts is recruitment of enough adequately credentialed faculty for some sought-after programs of study. Salary limitations make it difficult to find faculty who are willing to leave a high-paying career for a teacher’s salary.
To address this limitation, TJC recently evaluated revenue and expenses to improve pay equity for dual enrollment programs. To date, the college has not charged tuition for technical/workforce dual credit courses, and therefore, only pays a small stipend to the high school teachers who work as credentialed adjunct faculty. If TJC opts to institute a tuition payment for these courses, it will allow them to partner with school districts to hire more faculty for the certificate programs. If high schools are able to recruit teachers, using the additional pay from the college as an incentive, the program’s biggest limitation — a need for teachers — could be addressed. With greater access to instructors, TJC’s dual enrollment program would only continue to expand its impact on the community.