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Higher education challenges aired at forum
Thursday, September 27, 2012
By ASHLEY JACKSON - Bulletin Staff Writer
The key to raising the bar of higher education for Martinsville and Henry County is to create multiple tiers of reinforcement that will hopefully engage students, said Dr. Angeline Godwin, president of Patrick Henry Community College, at the third annual Higher Education Forum on Wednesday.
Everyone in the community must understand that they “have a role,” Godwin said.
About 10 school leaders and principals were in attendance.
The message of the value of education should be relayed in every aspect of the community — at home, in the church, at school and other places in the community, she said at the forum, held at the New College Institute in Martinsville.
Godwin said she remembered when she was a child attending Sunday school where reading, writing, speaking, arts and music were prevalent, adding that an emphasis on education in the church is important to engaging children.
William Wampler, executive director of New College Institute, also spoke at the forum, and he noted the high cost of college tuition and the burden of debt that college graduates face.
Godwin responded that due to the high cost, it is even more important that college staff make sure students are not taking courses they don’t need or that don’t count toward their degrees and credentials so that no resources are wasted.
She also suggested that colleges begin looking to offer degree courses earlier in a person’s college career instead of students taking general studies courses before they begin ones geared toward their major. That idea could help to keep students engaged, she added. Wampler said he felt getting students to prepare themselves for college early in school is important. For instance, students who are interested in enrolling in the engineering courses offered at NCI through Virginia State University should be aware of the prerequisites while in middle school. Then, he said, they can begin preparing for enrollment when they reach high school.
Students participating in a dual enrollment program may reverse the trend of young people moving away for college because they can receive a college education here at home, Wampler said.
Also, internship opportunities can show students that they can have careers in the area, he added.
Another key topic discussed at the forum was how high schools and colleges can work together to interest students in higher education.
Gracie Agnew, principal at Magna Vista High School, said the school’s guidance counselors recently went to PHCC to meet with professors and learn about programs available there.
That helps counselors inform students on what is available at PHCC in hopes of sparking their interest in taking dual enrollment courses, she said.
Godwin said she believes there is value in dual enrollment. Parents do receive a bill for the dual enrollment courses; however, Godwin said she feels the courses should not be a financial burden on parents.
Wampler said that as PHCC and NCI prepare their budgets, they should discuss developing a financial-aid package specifically for dual enrollment courses.
Godwin suggested that church scholarship committees put dual enrollment students on their list of students to consider awarding scholarships.
If a student is pursuing higher education, the community should not “allow them to disengage” or lose interest, Godwin said. The community should “figure out some way to get that student to where they need to be” by pulling together resources, she added.
Garrett Dillard, Bassett High School principal, said that a program should be available to help students who become disengaged in middle school stay on track. He added that he would like to see a “middle college” program present in middle and high schools.
The middle college program at PHCC is designed to prepare 18-24-year-olds for the GED, Godwin said.
More hands-on activities in the classroom could help keep students engaged, as could mentors to help students to “see beyond where they are at,” she said.
Another challenge is informing parents, Agnew and Dillard said.
Many parents feel they cannot afford to send their child to college, but parents must be informed that there are resources out there to help, Dillard said.
Some ways to inform parents is to have educational booths set up at football games or have college officials speak during halftime, he added.
Some parents may not have the means to get to a football game, so Agnew said the schools should inform church officials of such things as SAT test preparation courses being offered. The church officials then could relay the messages to their congregations, she said.
Agnew also suggested that churches hold sessions to teach students how to study and what they need to do to prepare for college, she added.
The event was sponsored by Morning Star Holy Church in Martinsville.