Chesterfield schools shift focus of Early College Academy to more students receiving college credit

Chesterfield County
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CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — Through its partnership with John Tyler Community College (JTCC), Chesterfield County Public Schools (CCPS) is changing the credit requirements for students in the Early College Academy.

Currently, Chesterfield County students can earn an associate degree or general education certificate through the community college. The former requires 60 credits, while the latter requires 32.

“Moving forward, we’re going to take the lead of John Tyler,” director of high school leadership Dr. Belinda Merriman said. “John Tyler is moving away from associate degrees that do not fulfill a certain major because they recognize that students gain credits that then they can’t transfer.”

Merriman said that Chesterfield County Public Schools will shift its focus more toward the general education certificate for students. The certificate has a lower credit requirement that will enable them to continue to participate in other electives and coursework.

“We would rather have more students graduate with their [General Education] Certificate than a fewer number of students graduating with a degree,” Merriman said. “We really want to make sure we’re maximizing the number of college credits for our students.”

Chesterfield students interested in earning their associate degree will still have the option to do so. According to the Early College Academy presentation before the CCPS School Board at its Tuesday meeting, John Tyler Community College will work directly with students who wish to earn an associate degree to help them determine which degree best aligns with their career goals.

Merriman said that there are currently 2,862 students taking dual enrollment courses, with some students enrolled in more than one of these courses in a single year. Dual enrollment courses allow students to work on college credits while in high school. Chesterfield officials hope that this number with increase and with that, so will staffing needs.

“We will continue to support staff because we understand that staff is sometimes a barrier to having dual enrollment courses in a school,” Merriman said. “We look purposely to hire staff who are able to teach dual enrollment courses. We set up cohorts in math and English and science to try to help get them toward credentialing.”

Beginning with the 2021-22 school year, Merriman said that the addition of distance learning coursework will allow more students to participate in dual enrollment courses.

“Having access to rigorous curriculum is associated with stronger high school graduation rates, which I know we care about, as well as higher college enrollment and completion. Advanced coursework is also tied to stronger self-efficacy and self-perception,” Midlothian District representative Kathryn Haines said. “This is very critical work.”

Merriman said that the goal is to have all Chesterfield County general education students enrolled in at least one advanced placement (AP), international baccalaureate (IB) or dual enrollment course and earn a qualifying score for college credit by 2025.

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