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00000176-e6f7-dce8-adff-f6f7707e000090.5 WESA's Life of Learning series focuses on learning and education activities, opportunities and challenges in the Greater Pittsburgh area.This multi-year commitment to providing learning-focused news coverage in southwestern Pennsylvania is made possible by a generous grant from the Grable Foundation.

New Partnership Offers Beaver County High Schoolers Opportunities To Earn College Credits

College costs are on the rise and government financial assistance is shrinking, leaving many high schoolers to wonder what they can do to ensure their future success without taking on massive debt.

A recent partnership between the Community College of Beaver County (CCBC) and Lincoln Learning Solutions, formerly known as the National Network of Digital Schools, may make a difference in Butler County and the surrounding region.

Lincoln Learning Solutions is investing $1.5 million in a leadership gift to CCBC. For the first year the college will receive $500,000, and then $200,000 each year for the next five years in order to further grow its endowment and launch five new high school academies.

The gift is the largest CCBC has ever received.

“It’s proving to be an opportunity for high school students to really get excited about learning, an opportunity for character development, an opportunity to explore careers in high demand work force areas,” said Chris Reber, president of the Community College of Beaver County.

The first of the planned six academies, the Aviation Academy, opened in January, giving the 27 currently enrolled students the chance to get hands-on experience in their preferred career field while still taking high school classes. The college expects to have 50 enrolled in the academy this upcoming fall.

Students in grades 9-12 who are enrolled in the programs will spend approximately half of their high school experience taking courses in areas related to STEM and are able to graduate high school with credits to cover half of an associate degree, according to Reber. Students spend two days a week at CCBC’s courses which simultaneously satisfy high school and graduation requirements. The students currently enrolled in the aviation program receive six college credits per semester, which comes out to be about $1000 per semester. By graduation they can complete up to 37 credits towards college programs.

In fall 2016, the health academy will open, followed each year by: advanced manufacturing and energy studies, then criminal justice and cyber security, then performing arts, and finally an online academy.

“We are planning these academies in areas of work force need,” said Reber. “So, the hope would be that reaching out to students in high school and then facilitating their continued involvement toward an associate degree that we will be able to keep folks in our region who are very much needed in terms of work force demand.”

The grant will also allow for the creation of a $1 million endowed scholarship fund to aid high school students in paying for the credits, since they’re not eligible for federal financial aid.

The academies will be open to any high school student in any of Beaver County’s 14 school districts. There are criteria for application and admission, but anyone can apply. CCBC has begun receiving inquiries from those outside of the county, including in Allegheny County. The college is currently preparing to provide the opportunity for those outside Beaver County to benefit from the programs as well.

“We’re offering high quality courses, we’re offering students the opportunity to earn college credit early while also exploring careers. And over time, we think this will also lead to a skilled workforce important to Beaver County and our surrounding region,” said Reber.

Already, the Aviation Academy is inspiring high schoolers in Beaver County. 

“As I talk to parents of the students in our first cohort, I frequently hear things like ‘For the first time, my son or daughter comes home from school and the first thing they want to do is their homework because they’re so jazzed about the program,’” said Reber.

Reber says he’s anticipating serving hundreds, if not more than a thousand high school students once all six academies are running.