Program accelerates educational journey

Published 8:15 pm Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Jessa Robertson loves photography and Tar Heels basketball. She fits right in on the Beaufort County Community College campus — stylish and cute, with a wide, friendly smile. Though she has three semesters at BCCC under her belt, you’d never know she’s only 17.

Robertson is enrolled in the Career and College Promise Program at BCCC. For her, that means she’s on a straight shot to college after high school, ahead of her peers in credits and that much closer to completion of a four-year degree.

Jessa Robertson, 17, is a fulltime student at Beaufort County Community College where she is enrolled in the school’s Career and College Promise Program. Though in high school, through the program she’ll be able to apply the credits she earns now to the general education requirements of North Carolina universities when she transfers to the school of her choice. (WDN Photo/Vail Stewart Rumley)

The program’s design affords public, private and homeschooled juniors and seniors the opportunity to take classes for college certificates, diplomas and degrees aimed at college transfer or to provide entry–level job skills. Students simply chose a “pathway:” the college transfer pathway, in which the ultimate goal is to transfer earned credits to a four-year institute, or a career and technical pathway, where class credits are applied to an associate degree or a certificate that declares a recipient “job-ready.”

The program is a head start toward either college or career, and the bonus is that all CCPP courses are free, according to Wesley Beddard, BCCC’s dean of instruction.

In contrast to previous years, when high-school students were able to choose classes at the community college in a less-structured way, the process is now being refined as students are asked to make more decisions about career and education goals earlier on.

“Students are more likely to thrive in a structured program that is leading to a set goal and results in an academic credential for college,” said Beddard. “Statistically, they’re more likely to persist and more likely to be successful.”

Case in point: Robertson’s siblings, Justus and Johanna. All three of the Robertson children were home-schooled and took advantage of classes for high-school students at BCCC. Justus Robertson, 25, graduated from North Carolina State University with a double major in computer science and English and is now at the school working on his Ph. D. in computer science. Johanna, 22, finished her pre-pharmacy degree in three years at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and has enrolled in the school’s pharmacy program.

The two entered their respective programs at younger ages than their peers because the credits toward general-education requirements they accumulated at BCCC transferred to their respective schools.

According to Beddard, that also translates to big savings on tuition costs.

“A student can save over $25,000,” he said.

Beddard explained that if a senior graduated from high school with 33 college-semester hours already completed at BCCC, only a single semester more would satisfy the general-education requirements for all North Carolina state colleges. Credits can then be transferred, allowing students to enter a four-year college and immediately dive into classes in their chosen majors. Three years later, they could have their undergraduate degrees in hand.

“It opens a door for our students so they have a leg up when they hit the university, and have some experience in the college classroom, which is invaluable,” explained Beddard.

For Jessa Robertson, the exposure at BCCC to students of diverse backgrounds and ages is an education in itself.

“It’s fun interacting with people of all ages,” said Robertson. “Some of my good friends in class are moms who are out there working every day. It helps me strive for a good education.”

Robertson will be completing her college transfer pathway certificate in December, a semester ahead of schedule. While she doesn’t yet know what she wants to study at a university, she knows she wants to follow in her elder siblings’ footsteps.

“They had a really good experience with it, and it’s such a great opportunity,” said Robertson. “(Their experience) has led me in that direction as well.”

Beddard, meanwhile, will be recruiting high-school students for the program: those who see a four-year college in the future as well as those looking to enter the work force directly after high-school graduation.

“One of my goals is to get more people taking advantage this,” said Beddard. “Some kids can get to Chapel Hill without us, but there are a lot more who could get there with our help.”

BCCC will host an information session for students, parents, teachers, counselors and school personnel to discuss program options available, enrollment requirements and application/registration procedures at 6:30 p.m. Monday in the Building 8 auditorium on the BCCC campus.