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Morrilton Puts Students On Partnership Path (Education/Workforce | Winner, Class III)

3 min read

Morrilton is making waves with its new Pathways to Opportunities Partnership (POP) program.

The program provides high school students with college credit and a skill set prior to graduation. Through partnerships with several entities, students are able to take these college courses at no cost.

“Benefits include creating a pipeline of educated workers for businesses, providing higher wage opportunities for employment, increased taxes for the city and county as businesses grow and lessening the financial burden on students to attain post-secondary education and skills training,” said Linda Birkner, vice chancellor for administration at University of Arkansas Community College at Morrilton.

POP came about when South Conway County, Nemo Vista, Sacred Heart and Wonderview school districts, the University of Arkansas Community College at Morrilton (UACCM) and Conway County School Counts! joined forces.

Coincidentally, UACCM had technical programs available and was in the process of constructing a workforce training center. And School Counts!, a not-for-profit organization, was established years before in an effort to increase the number of locals who hold post-secondary degrees.

After months of discussions, a Memorandum of Understanding was signed by local school superintendents, UACCM administration and School Counts! officials. UACCM waived all fees for concurrent high school students, with school districts providing $50 per credit hour and School Counts! providing $40 per credit hour. The school districts also covered program and course fees.

“Concurrent education is not a new concept, but in many areas of the state, the college campus is expected to provide instruction at no cost,” Birkner said. “This is not sustainable and puts the burden on paying students to support those who obtain waivers.”

Students who enroll have several technical programs to choose from and must meet the college admissions requirements. High school juniors and seniors are allowed to take college-level technical courses on the UACCM campus while receiving high school credit. POP has been in place for two years and in that time 75 students have completed 718 credit hours.

An added benefit of the partnership is that no additional staffing is required. School Counts! has one part-time employee who helps recruit for the program, while school counselors help guide interested parents and students. College faculty and staff carry out the educational programming from students.

Concurrent credit classes typically take place on high school campuses, but POP students are part of regular instruction on a college campus. A required orientation is held before classes begin to educate parents and students about the program.

The POP courses also teach students career-readiness skills that will help them get and keep jobs.

“POP has inspired students who may never have thought about college,” Birkner said. “The long-term value to our community is opportunity. When a student completes this program, they can walk away with no student debt and the skills and training necessary to get a good job.”

The forward-thinkers behind POP are already looking toward the future. In spring 2018, UACCM opened the Workforce Training Center, which houses high-wage, high-demand programs in auto service technology, welding, HVAC and industrial mechanics and maintenance technology.

The new facility will allow POP to expand enrollment and prepare even more young people with the skills needed for tomorrow’s jobs. The 53,843-SF facility represents the largest construction project in the institution’s history and was made possible with a bond issue and private funding totaling about $2.7 million. An additional $1 million in equipment was donated.

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