Van Buren High School students will this fall have the opportunity to graduate with associate’s degrees or technical certifications at the same time they receive their high school diplomas courtesy of partnerships with Arkansas Tech University (ATU) in Russellville and the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith (UAFS).
For the ATU program, students will have the opportunity to knock out their general education requirements free-of-charge while deciding on a postsecondary plan of action.
“With this exciting partnership, our high school is basically becoming a hybrid campus, part high school and part university,” said VBSD Superintendent Dr. Harold Jeffcoat.
The associate’s degree option is “a good foundation for a variety of career paths,” according to VBSD Director of Curriculum Nancy Robbins.
“It obviously gives those looking to complete a bachelor’s degree or higher a jumpstart, but it also gives those pursuing a technical certificate an advantage, in that they will have the chance to complete their associate degree first and then add on other certifications,” she added.
It could also ease the burden of student loan debt since it essentially shaves two years of tuition and fees from the overall cost of a bachelor’s degree. According to the College Board, the average cost of tuition and fees for the 2015–2016 school year was $32,405 at private colleges, $9,410 for state residents at public colleges, and $23,893 for out-of-state residents attending public universities.
Arkansas was a little cheaper than the averages, but not by much with in-state tuition and fees at the University of Arkansas running around $9,143 for a full year (30 hours) while ATU and UAFS cost $8,280 and $6,701, respectively.
An in-state student who completed their associate’s degree through the VBHS-ATU program would essentially save anywhere between $13,000 and $19,000 in tuition and fees from the overall cost of their education.
Robbins called it a “win-win” for Van Buren students and ATU as students will earn credit hours toward a degree while the university could potentially lock in students, who go on to enroll in additional courses there after high school. It also helps future college students to ease into the rigor of college coursework “before they have to start dealing with the social aspect that comes from living on campus and being on their own,” Robbins added.
UAFS TECHNICAL CERTIFICATION TRAINING
The technical certification program through UAFS will be specific to students looking at the fields of robotics and cyber systems, and will be considered “associate and bachelor degree track programs,” VBSD said in a press release.
The robot automation program follows the university’s electronics technology coursework and offers both a technical certificate and associate’s degree option. Students must complete 26 hours to earn their associate’s in ET. By enrolling as a sophomore and finishing three years of the program, graduates will have their technical certification and be close to completing the full number of hours required for the associate’s degree. Hours may then be applied toward a number of UAFS’s bachelor degree programs, including applied science, organizational leadership, and engineering technology.
The cyber systems program follows the university’s information technology coursework and offers students a fast track to a bachelor’s degree. Specializations are available in programming, networking, security and database management. Students who complete three full years of the program will graduate with technical certification in IT and will have a substantial number of hours towards a bachelor’s degree.
The UAFS programs are primarily supported through regional workforce grants from the Arkansas Economic Development Commission.
“Being able to complete a significant amount of college coursework while in high school gives our students an advantage over many high school graduates throughout the state,” Jeffcoat said, adding that all programs would launch in the fall semester.
“Everyone has worked hard to make these great possibilities a reality for our students. I’m appreciative of the partnership and support we have with both ATU and UAFS. We are so fortunate to have such strong universities willing to join us in creating these options for our students. Parents expect their local schools to provide a high quality education for their children, and I believe the Van Buren School District is doing just that with opportunities such as these.”
THE SKILLED TRADE SHORTAGE
The Associated General Contractors of America (AGCA) estimates there will be 31 million job vacancies in qualified skilled trade positions by 2020, brought on by the aging baby boomer population – employees/workers between the ages of 50 and 69.
Boomers hold the majority of skilled trade positions in the U.S., according to research firm Adecco, which notes that 62% of firms are struggling to fill the positions with qualified workers and 32% of manufacturers that make more than $1 billion annually expect to lose $100 million in productivity over the next five years resulting from skilled worker shortages. Positions most affected will include electricians, civil engineers, electrical engineers, machinists and construction workers, among others.
The federal Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that the median wage for a vocational skill worker is $20.25 per hour, though that can skew much higher when factoring in more advanced careers in electronics and information technology similar to what the UAFS programs in particular will address. For example, electrical and electronics engineering technicians – associate’s degree required at entry level – earn a median pay of $61,130 annually (around $30 per hour) with 90th percentile workers earning around $90,570 annually.