Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Hancock County Using College Credits and New Campus to Address Workforce Needs

As a potential workforce crisis looms in Hancock County, the local school system has created an innovative program to address the needs for a highly skilled workforce.  The needs are well documented.  According to Mike Baker, the economic development director in Hancock County, an aging workforce at many of the large aluminum and manufacturing employers means that as many as 42 percent of the skilled technicians could retire in the next three to five years.

That is a primary reason that Baker and other local officials have worked to create a satellite campus of the Owensboro Community and Technical College in the county.

Hancock County Schools Superintendent Scott Lewis has a vision that the new campus and the OCTC Discover College program that allows high school students to take college courses will mean that new graduates can meet the needs of local industries.

The project also will help the school district fulfill its vision for high school students to be able to take up to 60 college hours and have about two years of college credits "paid for" by the time they graduate, the superintendent said. "We're getting very close to having that plan worked out," Lewis said. "Students can do that now, but they pay for it. This would cost the school district, but it would be free to students."

The goal is for high school students to have the opportunity "to graduate with a vocational certificate and be employable or to have enough college credits to be close to an associate's degree," he said. Currently, students who are dually enrolled are "ones who would go on to college anyway," he said.  Local educators want to see more of their students who may not have thought about college to learn that they can succeed.

"A lot of our kids -- they may be the first in their families to go to college," he said.  The high school already has begun to align its curriculum with OCTC's, Lewis said.  "At the same time, that increases our rigor," he said. "We've done a good job of doing that in elementary and middle school, but our high school had stayed the same until now."

This model demonstrates the role that high school and community college collaboration can play in the economic development of rural areas.

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