Local colleges and school districts in north Montgomery County are discussing additional dual credit program opportunities this month as educators grapple with new high school graduation requirements recently implemented by the Texas Legislature.

The shift in philosophy at the high school level asks students to identify their career path at a younger age than ever—the beginning of the ninth grade— and has led colleges and universities to adapt their dual credit and career and technical education programs to align with the new high school graduation system, said Rebecca Riley, Lone Star College-Montgomery president.

“Most of the academic transfer courses have traditionally been in core college subjects like English, history, government and math,” Riley said. “Throughout the state, those alignments are forming so that students can do dual credit in [career pathway] courses as well.”

What is the Foundation High School Program? By passing House Bill 5 in 2013, the Texas Legislature established new graduation guidelines for high school students. The guidelines affect students who enrolled in high school during the 2014-15 school year.[/caption]

Updating the career pathway

Passage of House Bill 5 in 2013 established the Foundation High School Program, which outlines default graduation requirements for Texas students who entered high school during the 2014-15 school year and beyond.

Under the program, students are asked to specify which career pathways they will pursue academic endorsements for. Endorsements can be earned in science, technology, engineering and math; business and industry; public services; arts and humanities as well as multidisciplinary studies.

As a result of the program, LSC-Montgomery and LSC-Conroe Center are working to bridge workforce training programs from high schools to the college level. Beginning in February, campus representatives are speaking to local school districts about programs that may be suited for dual credit.

The workforce training programs are intended to train students for
in-demand jobs within local industries, such as oil and gas, health care and manufacturing, Riley said, adding that at least 90 percent of LSC-Montgomery students find employment after graduating.

“You can put all of the programs in the world in place, but if there is no job at the end of it then you haven’t done anybody any favors,” she said.

While local school districts offer a variety of certifications, workforce training is intended to give students a leg up on their post secondary success—rather than limit students to entry-level jobs coming out of high school, said Greg Shipp, Conroe ISD Career and Technical Education administrator.

When a student enters the workforce, major local employers like Conroe Regional Medical Center often offer tuition reimbursement programs to entry-level employees who are interested in continuing their education.

“We offer tuition reimbursement to allow employees to continue their education and grow their skills, and give them the opportunity to get promoted,” said Diana Howell, CRMC vice president of human resources.

Lone Star College Dual Credit classes Students at Conroe, Montgomery and Willis ISDs can participate in dual credit courses through a number of district partnerships with LSC-Montgomery.[/caption]

School partnerships

The LSC-Conroe Center offers dual-credit courses to Conroe and Montgomery ISD high school students enrolled in courses, such as auto technology, machining, welding and certified nurse assistant courses. However, other courses—such as those offered under the Project Lead the Way program at MISD—do not have dual-credit eligibility with the college.

Representatives from the LSC-Conroe Center began meeting with Montgomery, Conroe, Willis, Magnolia, Huntsville and New Waverly ISDs in February to discuss the potential of offering credit for existing programs that meet college standards, said Tristyn Davis, program manager for school partnerships.

“If there are courses in the high school program that could articulate [to college], it would give students a chance to not repeat classes that they are already taking,” Davis said.

CISD is focused on workforce training and offers courses in 15 distinct career pathways to students, Shipp said.

Beginning with the 2016-17 school year, CISD will also offer a new emergency medical technician dual-credit program in partnership with the LSC-Montgomery campus, Shipp said.

“Health care careers are going to continue to be at the forefront in terms of job openings,” Shipp said.

However, while some MISD students can receive dual credit from LSC, the approximate 250 students enrolled in Project Lead the Way classes are not, said Duane McFadden, MISD executive director of secondary education.

Jobs in demand Local school districts and colleges are preparing students for in-demand jobs throughout the Greater Houston area.[/caption]

The district implemented PLTW—a nationally renowned organization that focuses on STEM education—during the 2014-15 school year by offering introductory engineering courses to middle school and high school students.

The district added advanced engineering courses each year and is also adding a computer science career pathway under PLTW next school year. Program coordinators are also considering adding biomedical science—the program’s final career pathway—in the near future, McFadden said.

“There is a lot of career exploration,” McFadden said. “How many college freshmen go in to college saying they want to be one thing, and by year two they are enrolled in something else?”

However, the program only has four Texas post-secondary schools that offer credit for the program: University of Texas at Tyler, Texas A&M University-Kingsville, Austin Community College and Texas State University.