09:46 AM

Two Diplomas in Hand

New Dual Enrollment Initiative Speeds up Cycle of Higher Education

Fiona -- Newsroom

When WCTC President Rich Barnhouse, Ph.D., worked as a vice president at State College of Florida, Manatee-Sarasota (SCF), he oversaw the area of dual enrollment. SCF – just like WCTC – offered a number of ways in which high school students could earn both high school and college credits simultaneously. One program, in particular, gave students a marked advantage: it put them on track to graduate with a high school diploma and an SCF associate degree at the same time.

Barnhouse helped grow that model at SFC, and now he’s hoping to do the same at WCTC. In January, the WCTC Excelerate initiative began in limited scope and it will expand significantly in fall 2022, welcoming high school students directly into College programs.

"I learned a lot from that Florida experience: such as, how to grow the program at a sustainable rate while ensuring there’s still high-quality academics," Barnhouse said. "And now, this is something we’re doing at WCTC. We’re blending all the different streams of dual enrollment (including transcripted credit, Dual Enrollment Academy and Start College Now) – with Excelerate as the growth model – which allows (high school) students just to be regular college students. We’re changing education in a more robust way."

About WCTC Excelerate

WCTC Excelerate allows qualified, current high school juniors and seniors ages 16 and older to apply to a full College program. They can earn dual credit and possibly an associate degree, technical diploma or certificate, even before they graduate from high school. It shortens time to a degree, reduces student debt and prepares students for jobs or further post-secondary education.

The initiative is targeted to those who already have a clear idea of what program they would like to pursue and are ready to jump-start their careers. Additionally, this can also allow students who successfully complete their WCTC program to transfer directly to a four-year college or university, with up to junior-level standing, right out of high school.

Students can enter into nearly any WCTC program, except for a few that have certain prerequisites or age restrictions, as well as some shared programs with other technical colleges.

WCTC Excelerate also offers several benefits to program-seeking students, such as priority registration for courses, academic advising, new student orientation and other on-campus resources.

Partnering With K-12 School Districts

Initial conversations about WCTC Exclererate started shortly after Barnhouse joined WCTC, but planning began in earnest last summer after a successful meeting with local K-12 superintendents, WCTC staff and Waukesha County Executive Paul Farrow. The partners delved into various elements of the initiative and discussed how it could benefit students and provide workforce solutions.

Elmbrook School District Superintendent Mark Hansen, Ph.D., said his district, which includes two high schools, promises students at the start of their freshman year that they will have access to at least 30 college credits (Advanced Placement, transcripted credit, dual credit and others) before they graduate from high school. WCTC Excelerate, he said, expands students’ options.

"We just want to tackle the time and cost to a degree with our own programming, and then when we get innovative partners like WCTC, we can tackle it with another solution that could open doors that we didn’t have open before," he said.

In the past, the role of the high school was to get students college-ready, Hansen said, but today, that expectation is higher. "Our job used to be to get kids into college. I like to think our job now is to get kids through college," Hansen stressed.

Cost Savings to Students, Families

A key benefit of WCTC Excelerate is the financial savings to students and families, said Sandra Maylen, manager of WCTC’s Center for Early College Opportunities. Many students may be able to complete their full academic program, or a sizable portion of it, at no cost.

"By combining Excelerate with Start College Now (a state program/funding mechanism), many courses taken at WCTC can be paid by the school district," she said, noting it varies by district.

Looking at ways to reduce college costs and avoid student debt has been a big driver of this initiative, administrators say.

"Everybody knows about the student debt crisis," Barnhouse said. "The way forward is to collaborate like this with our K-12 and university partners and make better use of the taxpayer funds that already exist today, so students come out with little or nothing out of pocket for the first two years (of college)."

A Pipeline of Workers

From now through 2032, high school graduation rates in Waukesha County are projected to decline by 12.4 percent, Barnhouse said. And with numerous employers in business and industry desperate for employees, high schools and colleges need to work in tandem to develop a trained workforce – sooner rather than later.

One solution, Hansen added, "is to rapidly accelerate the acquisition of employability skills in our current generation," and connect young people with sustainable careers with a trajectory and room for advancement.

WCTC Excelerate is poised to make that happen, Barnhouse said. "This is essentially shaving off two years of schooling. It’s speeding up the whole cycle of higher education." 

 >> For more information, visit Students are also encouraged to talk with their high school counselors.

>> Please see related story featuring student and parent perspectives.