Columbia Area Career Center continues to teach students technical skills

Thursday, October 20, 2011 | 6:46 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — The Columbia School Board took a field trip Thursday morning to the Columbia Area Career Center.

Several years have passed since the board visited the center on South Providence Road next to Rock Bridge High School.

“Dr. Rose and I talked about this year last year, and we thought it would be great for the board to observe the culture and the climate of the center,” Linda Rawlings, the center's administrative director, said. “We thought it was important that the board understand the flavor of the building.”

Rawlings presented an overview of the career and technical education available. She began by highlighting former career center students who have gone on to academic success.

One received a scholarship to the engineering program at Purdue University after taking robotics courses at the center, she said. Another attended the University of Notre Dame on scholarship and was hired as a graphic designer at the school after taking digital media classes at the center.

“Our students are finding a passion here, and they’re finding their niche,” Rawlings said.

The career center focuses on helping high school students earn college credits, but it also has an adult education department that serves more than 3,500 community members.

This year, the center has more than 20 programs and 80 classes. In 2010, 1,560 high school students enrolled in 2,246 classes, earning 2,413 college credits. Subjects include arts and communication, health services, business and management and engineering and industrial technology.

About 1,500 of the  center’s current students come from Rock Bridge and Hickman high schools. The remaining students come from about six other schools in surrounding districts.

Rawlings thinks that when renovations at Hickman are finished, construction of Battle High School is completed and additional online courses are added to the curriculum, the career center as a whole will see a rise in its enrollment.

"There is a career center being designed at Battle High School that will have plenty of space for career technical opportunities," Wanda Brown, assistant superintendent for secondary education, said.

With more space and classes available, Rawlings is positive about the number of students the center can affect.

"Once a student comes in the building they stay with us, Rawlings said. "Sixty to 65 percent of those who enroll once, enroll again. Their investment is phenomenal."

After the career center presentation, Betsy Jones, sixth- through 12th-grade coordinator for the district, discussed three ways students can earn college credits:

  • Advanced placement courses, which students can take at their high schools or at the career center.
  • Dual credit courses, which students can take at their high school or career center. These courses have both high school and college credit designations.

  • Dual enrollment, in which students can enroll in two separate but academically related institutions to earn college credit while in high school.

Taking AP courses is the most popular way for Columbia students to earn college credits.

Jones said that in 2011, 1,172 AP tests were taken. The tests are given at the end of the course to determine whether college credit will be given.

Also this year, 253 students enrolled in dual credit courses and 23 students used dual enrollment as a way to earn college credit.

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