Associate degrees are targeted

Published 7:38 pm Tuesday, October 29, 2019

By Frederic Lee

Staff writer

Isle of Wight County schools officials are seeking a path for high school students to earn college associate degrees before graduating, an effort that may involve paying teachers to further their education as an incentive. 

While Isle of Wight County schools currently offer seven dual enrollment classes, there would need to be other classes added in various core disciplines in order for students to be able to earn an associate degree during high school. 

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A lack of credentialed teachers is holding the school division back from being able to offer the required classes for an associate’s degree, according to Isle of Wight County schools staff. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

An associate degree requires at least 61 college credit hours, according to the U.S. Department of Education, compared to a standard bachelor’s degree (B.S. or B.A.), which typically requires 120 credit hours. 

Isle of Wight County Schools Superintendent Jim Thornton said that allowing students to earn an associate degree gives them college credit that can apply to a bachelor’s degree once they move on to college.  

In order to teach a dual enrollment course in Virginia, teachers must have a master’s or doctoral degree in their teaching discipline or a master’s degree with a concentration equal to 18 graduate semester hours toward their discipline, according to information provided by the Virginia Department of Education. 

Paying qualified teachers to go back to college to attain those 18 required credit hours in their teaching discipline — equal to six college courses — would cost roughly $1,068 per class, or $6,408 total, according to Isle of Wight County Schools Executive Director of Curriculum and Instruction Susan Goetz. 

Goetz added that if the division pays for teachers to advance their education in order to qualify to teach dual enrollment, the School Board may also want to consider requiring those teachers to remain in Isle of Wight County Schools for a certain amount of years after completing the courses. 

According to Goetz, there are several teachers at Windsor and Smithfield High schools that already meet the advanced education requirements set by the Virginia Department of Education. In those cases, the division may want to consider paying those teachers a stipend to become certified to teach dual enrollment as an incentive.  

Dual enrollment is made possible in Isle of Wight County schools through partnership with Paul D. Camp Community College, which approves the syllabi of each class, according to Goetz. 

To attain an associate degree, at least one of the 61 required college credit hours must be in the discipline of physical education, at least one credit hour in IT and at least two credit hours in English, science, math, history/social science and humanities. Additionally, four credit hours must be in elective classes. 

A placement test is required in order for students to be eligible to enroll in dual enrollment classes, according to staff. 

Currently Smithfield and Windsor juniors and seniors are eligible for dual enrollment courses, with exceptions for sophomores taking advanced math courses, according to the school division.  {/mprestriction}