SHERIDAN — As part of an initiative to expand concurrent college enrollment for area high school students, the Northern Wyoming Community College District received a one-year grant from the Wyoming Department of Education to benefit Sheridan College’s online offerings in the human services program.
Four courses — counseling ethics, counseling skills, case management and drugs and behavior — will have an online course developed by the distance education program, adding to the courses already available through the Blackboard learning system. The system has seen significant growth in recent years and the $14,525 grant will help continue that growth.
SC Director of Distance and Distributive Learning Stoney Gaddy said over the last three to four years the college has applied for and received several similar grants as they started pairing college faculty with faculty of high schools throughout Sheridan and surrounding counties.
Gaddy said by pairing high school and college teachers of like subjects to discuss what is being taught and how, while utilizing online courses, high school students are placed on a path toward college completion.
“Taking an online class is probably going to be part of your college experience,” Gaddy said, and as such, a high school level introduction to online learning course was developed.
In it, students attend a physical class to learn how to navigate the Blackboard system, communicate with the online course instructor and fellow students. The students then join a course and work through modules and everything they need to be successful through online learning while in a comfortable and supportive environment of a high school classroom.
Gaddy said the aim of the course is not only development but also building a level of confidence that concurrent enrollment classes, and attending college in general, are within the young students’ reach.
After the completion of the introductory course, high school students may begin taking college prerequisite courses online. With help of the grant, a shift in focus can also now begin to move students from general education courses to degree specific ones.
“What my vision has been over the last year or two was to start students on a degree completion path so by the time they graduate high school they are on their way to completing a degree in a specific discipline as opposed to a group of generic courses,” Gaddy said. “If they can make those choices in their junior or senior year and start down that career path I think that will increase their odds of actually getting that degree.”
With the new course offerings, Gaddy said a high school student who is “really driven and motivated to take as many online or concurrent classes as possible” could leave high school with 24 college credits in the bank, with the majority of those credits going toward their human services degree.
A certificate of completion is offered in the program and requires 30 credit hours to achieve. The two-year degree requires 60 credits, so graduating students will enter the college well on their way to graduation.
“The nice thing about the certificate of completion, especially for first-time college students, is they have completed this one piece, they have something in their hand that shows they can do the work and it gives them confidence to continue on,” said social sciences faculty member Elaine Premo.
Premo will teach the majority of the new courses and said she’s excited for the expanding collaboration with area schools, adding that there many are benefits to the programs.
“It’ll give high school students the opportunity to start interacting with adults outside of their usual experience,” she said. “There are benefits even if these young men and women decide to join the military. You can enter with a higher rank if you’ve had college education, but to a larger degree, they enter the military with knowledge of online courses and they can continue taking classes while enlisted now that they know how to use the system.”
Gaddy added that though some high school students may be undecided as to which major to pursue in college or path to take in life, starting young gives them time to finish whatever they end up doing on time even if they change course.
“There’s no guarantee that the credit they have earned would apply to a new degree if they switch,” he said, “but I guess if a student is going to change their mind and completely switch careers I would rather see that happen their senior level of high school as opposed to senior year of college.”
Currently six high schools teach the introduction to online learning class including Sheridan High School, Tongue River High School, Arvada-Clearmont High School and Big Horn High School.
“For many students, especially first generation college attendees, college can be scary,” Premo said. “This is a great way to introduce them to college and let them know that anyone can come to college as long as they have the right guidance and support.”