08/25/10 — Dual-enrollment classes threatened

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Dual-enrollment classes threatened

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on August 25, 2010 1:46 PM

Dual enrollment for high school students -- allowing them to take college courses at Wayne Community College tuition-free -- has been curtailed for the time being, forcing educators to find alternative classes in some areas.

Legislators and the economic downturn are being blamed for the short-notice announcement that has sent students at schools like Wayne School of Engineering, which resumed Aug. 9, scrambling for substitute classes.

"It didn't sneak up on us, it came right out of the ground and bit us," Dr. Kay Albertson, WCC president, said Wednesday.

College officials learned of the change around July 20, she said -- that the community college system, which offers credit for high schoolers taking college classes, would reduce funding and not be able to offer some of the classes it had the previous year.

"Last year, we could offer to any high school students science, technology, engineering and math, to any high school students who met the criteria," she said. "Any high school student that was enrolled in the Learn and Earn program, which is all done online, could take anything that would include general education -- foreign language, psychology, any of those general education courses.

"This year we knew upfront that Learn and Earn online, those students would no longer be able to take those general education courses."

For several years now, high school students could take college-level courses and have tuition waived, Mrs. Albertson said. For that to continue, however, she said, the college has had to "follow the script that's given to us by the General Assembly."

That would be fine, she said, except it is not the end of the story.

"A message came to us that innovation high schools -- like the Wayne Early/Middle College High School and School of Engineering -- would be exempt from the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) only," she said. "In other words, they could take not only the STEM courses but the general education.

"That's what we believed up until about three-and-a-half weeks ago. We got a memo from the N.C. community college system with some clarification of what we had understood."

Ultimately, Wayne Early/Middle, which is housed on the WCC campus, remains exempt and students can continue to enroll in both STEM and general education courses tuition-free.

Wayne School of Engineering, introduced in the fall of 2007 and housed at Goldsboro High School, falls into the same category as other innovative high schools in the state, she said, which means students can no longer schedule general education courses for college credit.

Mrs. Albertson said she is sympathetic to the problem and has spent recent days working with her staff to disseminate information and explain to parents what the change means.

"Some of the parents' concerns was the time frame that this happened," said Anne Millington, director/cooperative education, cooperative programs and job referral at WCC.

When students originally enrolled July 14, she explained, officials were operating under the belief that the School of Engineering would be exempt from the change.

"After that date, we got this other information," she said. "We sat down with Gary Hales (School of Engineering principal) and tried to place students in other classes that would be beneficial for their educational plan."

Seniors, she noted, were given priority, but every student was put into classes that were as comparable to their original requests as possible.

"There was no way to not spring it on them," Mrs. Albertson said. "We had one week of notice before they did. And in that week prior to their coming back to school, we all sat around (schools superintendent) Dr. (Steven) Taylor's table and said here are some of the options, here's what we can do. It was all that we could do."

While students might not have ultimately gotten the courses they had their hearts set on, Mrs. Albertson said, at least for the science, math and technology classes, there would still be college credit.

As for the other subject areas, she said every effort was made to ensure student's requirements were met.

"I would say with great confidence that there's not a student in the School of Engineering that will not graduate as a result of being able to take a course with us," she said.

The situation can be explained simply as a casualty of these economic times, Mrs. Albertson said.

"One of the things that's very clear to us is that the General Assembly is taking a real close look at the number of courses that the community college system in general is offering to high school students," she said. "It's expensive to the state of North Carolina."

While popular, ultimately it all boiled down to dollars and cents, Mrs. Albertson said.

"We have been given this directive to help serve high school students but it got bigger than I think anyone thought it would be, but it's expensive because it's tuition-waived," she said. "Philosophically, this is an excellent thing to do, but it's not bringing in any money."

In all likelihood, a study will be done and the landscape will look altogether different next year, Mrs. Albertson said.

The General Assembly is responding to the economic climate and eliminating offerings that are not generating revenue at community colleges across the state.

WCC still wants to honor commitments it has made to schools like the School of Engineering, said Mrs. Albertson, who reiterated that she believes more changes are imminent.

"As they study this further this year, I think that a lot of us are going to get calls and a lot of questions are going to be asked," she said. "But the one guarantee that I think that's out there -- the community college services that are out there for students are going to be pared down, and it's going to look quite different."

Dr. Sandra McCullen, associate superintendent for curriculum and instruction, credited college officials with its handling of the unanticipated change.

"We're very appreciative of WCC and their efforts to respond to this in a timely manner and provide classes for our students in the public school system," she said. "They have turned over every leaf they can find to provide classes for our students. We are actually sending home a letter (Wednesday) from Mr. Hales, to parents to inform them of the most current information, and it changes daily.

"It is our intent to research every avenue to make sure every student has what they need ... We have high graduation rates in these schools. It's our intention to provide services as much as we can, as funds are available."