Sept. 28, 2023
At this time of the year, many high school seniors are beginning to apply to college, but just outside of Cleveland, Ohio, one senior is on track to graduate with a high school diploma and three college degrees under his belt.
Mason was 12 years old when he began taking college-level courses at Lorain County Community College (LCCC) but in just five years, he has earned an associate of arts degree and an associate of applied science degree in microelectronic manufacturing. In May, he is set to make history as LCCC’s first high school graduate from their Bachelor of Applied Science program in Microelectronic Manufacturing.
His ability to earn an impressive three degrees is due to the college’s dual enrollment program, which allows high school students to concurrently pursue college-level education alongside their standard high school curriculum. With a substantial number of high school students at community colleges, LCCC offers valuable insights into how community colleges can integrate their dual enrollment and bachelor’s degree programs. New America was able to sit down with Cynthia Kushner, Director of School and Community Partnerships, and Nadia Leary, Manager of College Credit Plus and Recruitment, to delve deeper into how the college’s bachelor’s programs provide pathways for dual enrollment graduates.
Dual Enrollment in Ohio
Lorain County Community College has a rich history as a pioneer in dual enrollment, having initiated these programs in the early 1990s. In Ohio, students can participate in the state-funded College Credit Plus program which permits them to enroll in college-level courses as early as seventh grade. By the time they enter high school, they can enroll in the MyUniversity program where Lorain uniquely aligns high school and college requirements so students are able to complete a postsecondary degree at a fraction of the cost and time.
According to Kushner, dual enrollment programs serve as "significant momentum builders" for students. These initiatives are designed to improve students' readiness for their careers and success in higher education and as Kushner puts it, these programs play a vital role in “[connecting] individuals to their career paths before high school graduation, particularly in districts facing lower socioeconomic challenges and lower educational attainment levels among parents and families.”
Partnerships with 4-Year Institutions
LCCC has built partnerships with universities offering complementary degrees, broadening the spectrum of educational choices available to its students. Community college baccalaureate programs expand local access to postsecondary education but as an increasing number of states grant community colleges the authority to confer bachelor’s degrees, it’s not uncommon for some universities to express concern about competition for bachelor’s students.
For LCCC, that hasn’t been an issue. Its bachelor’s programs are highly specific to the local labor market and aren’t available anywhere else in the area. So, LCCC’s bachelor’s programs complement rather than duplicate university partners’ bachelor’s degrees. Approved programs in Ohio must address an absence of a similar program at a college or university, and LCCC currently offers two bachelor’s programs including Microelectronic Manufacturing and Smart Industrial Automation Systems Engineering Technology, with a third program in development. These specialized programs demonstrate LCCC’s ongoing commitment to meet evolving workforce demands. As Leary notes, “it’s a whole pipeline…there’s a lot of moving pieces and so having those good connections was really helpful.” Dual enrollment students ready to take on a bachelor’s degree have several options—both from partner universities at their LCCC on-campus center and from LCCC directly.
Connecting with Local Industry
LCCC recognizes the growing interest among students in exploring work opportunities and has responded proactively by embedding work-based learning opportunities into their programs, including bachelor’s degrees. These initiatives provide students with blended academic and hands-on experiences, better preparing them for the workforce.
Kushner says, “partnerships that are deep and supported by industry enable us to delve much deeper into this work.” Lorain has secured Department of Defense funding and industry involvement to enhance their programs, such as providing robotics training and lending robots to educators teaching their programs at local high schools. The applied bachelor’s degree program includes Earn and Learn opportunities where students can get paid, on-the-job experience. Strategic partnerships, combined with engagement with local high schools, significantly expand Lorain’s program offerings and empower students to explore career pathways well before graduation.
Lessons from Lorain
Dual enrollment and community college baccalaureate programs are powerful tools for high school students to kickstart their college journeys and align with promising career paths, and LCCC demonstrates how community colleges can connect students to these pathways. In doing so, LCCC’s commitment to aligning education with real-world industry needs benefits both students and the workforce, strengthening the local community as a whole. Mason, LCCC’s soon-to-be high school graduate, represents just one example of how dual enrollment can connect young students to workforce-focused bachelor’s programs at their home community college. LCCC’s pioneering programs provide valuable insights into what has made this achievement possible.