Monday, December 8, 2008

The “High School Pipeline” - Building Enrollment in College Programs

Like most technician programs at public, two-year colleges, photonics technologies are suffering from low enrollments. And many of the students that enroll in photonics programs have to drop out in the first year because they struggle with the math.

The graduates of these programs are all getting multiple job offers and very good salaries - but we don’t have enough grads because we don’t have enough well-prepared students. To solve this problem, we have to “get to the source” of most of our students - the high school graduates.

Most of the students who enroll - and are successful - in photonics technology were recent high school graduates who were in the middle 60% of the achievers. They are capable students that are frequently underperforming, for several reasons:

  • Most of them are “hands-on” learners (or contextual learners.) They usually do not achieve high grades in science and math classes when the coursework is taught in the typical, abstract mode. They ask questions like, “Why do I have to learn this?”

  • Many of them are not very interested in school because they couldn’t understand how what they were being asked to learn would ever be useful to them. They may not have “physically” dropped out of school, but they dropped out, “mentally”.

  • They lack confidence as a student; they don’t think they are “college material.”

Colleges are learning that they can recruit these students in exciting STEM technologies like photonics, and they can help high schools to get them prepared, if they intervene when the students are in the early years of high school. The secret is to engage them in STEM “Career Pathways” that begin in the 9th or 10th grade and continue into college.

How can colleges help? Here are some strategies that have proven successful by some of OP-TEC’s Partner Colleges that teach photonics:

  1. Engage a young recruiter (someone in their 20’s) to frequently visit the high school campuses and talk to the students about photonics - but don’t call it photonics; call it “Lasers”. The recruiters don’t have to be old engineers or technology experts; some of the best recruiters have marketing backgrounds. You can teach them all they need to know about the field in a short time. Some of them are young mothers who want to work part time. Our colleges have all found that the “return on investment” is quite high.

  2. Work with local high schools to offer “Dual Credit” courses in photonics (or lasers) to high school juniors and seniors. Usually these courses are offered as technology courses, not science courses. OP-TEC is pilot testing an introductory photonics course for dual credit (secondary/post secondary). It is being delivered as a hybrid, online course. For one period each day, the students go to a computer lab in the high school and take the online portion of the course. There is a math/science or technology teacher also available in the lab to assist in the math and problem-solving aspects. Every two weeks, the students travel to the college and spend an afternoon in the laser labs. When they complete the course, the students receive high school credit for a technology course - and college credit for a course that counts towards an associate degree in photonics.

So why are these two strategies helping to build college enrollments? First, the recruitment strategy helps them discover a rewarding career field that’s interesting; and shows them an educational pathway that will allow them to begin the process early in high school. Second, the dual credit course allows them to start taking courses that they may use in their career, and it gives them some college credits while they are still in high school - that’s worth some $$.

But it does several other things as well. It assures that their math skills are developed to a level that they can be successful in college. It also places them in the environment of a college campus, and helps them understand that they can do college work. That’s a huge confidence builder for many “middle 60%” students. And, these students are our future technicians.

In the next few weeks I plan to talk about another long-term strategy for recruiting high school graduates. This strategy includes the use of “summer workshops” for both high school teachers and students. This strategy also works well, but takes time.

What other strategies are you using to build up your enrollment? Do you want more information about OP-TEC’s initiatives with student recruiters or dual enrollment courses? Contact us or share your feedback here!

1 comment:

Mike Qaissaunee said...

Great to see the blog! Everyone keep up the great work!

Mike Qaissaunee