Partnerships in dual enrollment programs and economic and leadership development were the focus of a panel discussion among education leaders Monday at the University of North Georgia’s Gainesville campus.
The discussion was part of a meeting of the UNG executive council, which includes leadership at all five campuses. UNG President Bonita Jacobs convenes the meetings about twice a semester, according to spokeswoman Sylvia Carson. More than 40 UNG leaders attended the panel discussion at the Martha T. Nesbitt Academic Building.
“We have a wealth of opportunities to educate our students and to develop our students for the workforce of the future,” said Kit Dunlap, president of the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce and moderator of the panel discussion.
Others on the panel were Lanier Technical College President Ray Perren; Gainesville City School System Superintendent Jeremy Williams; David Moody, executive director for leadership development for Hall County Schools; and Jacobs.
Participants emphasized the role education plays in workforce development in Hall County and the region.
“The mission of Lanier Tech is workforce development, and we were created and we still exist to prepare people for jobs to go directly into the workplace,” said Perren, noting that his school has had a 100 percent job placement rate for graduates in four of the last five years.
“Employees are snatching our graduates as soon as they get their credential,” he added. “In fact, in many areas such as welding and so forth, they hire students before they graduate. That’s how strong the job market is in our part of the state.”
Williams added that his school district is working to help give students skills to enter the workforce.
“All of our kids when they leave Gainesville High, we want them to be employable,” Williams said. “Our future is dependent on the success of our youth.”
Panelists pointed to the success of dual enrollment programs where students earn high school and college credit at the same time.
Hall County is in its second year of Early College @ Jones, one of those dual enrollment programs. In that program, UNG and Lanier Tech teachers come to Hall County to teach courses. There is also a program where Lanier Tech teachers teach students in dual enrollment classes at Gainesville High.
“It’s been amazingly successful in a sense that you’re talking about taking in young kids that are taking their first dip into the college world and we can keep some training wheels on and offer a lot of support for them, so that they get the habits for being successful,” Moody said.
Moody said apprenticeships are also a benefit of the partnerships with Lanier Tech and UNG.
“We have some students who are going into apprenticeships right now into local industry and with the support of local universities like UNG and Lanier Tech,” Moody said. “That chance to actually study while they’re in industry and to learn some of the skills that they learn while they are in industry, it’s all about helping students find their vision.”
Perren said dual enrollment programs have lowered the average age of students at Lanier Tech with 44 percent of Lanier Tech students this fall under age 21.
“That’s the highest percentage we have ever had,” Perren said. “Typically our population has tended to be 28 or 29 years old and upward. As the economy continues to boom and as Move on When Ready, which is now called the dual enrollment program, has continued to prosper Georgia, our average age has continued to decrease.”
Jacobs said UNG has worked in partnership with schools in dual enrollment programs, as well as partnering with Lanier Tech. UNG’s Gainesville campus will get the current Lanier Tech campus and its buildings when Lanier Tech moves to its new campus off Ga. 365 in 2019.
“Dual enrollment is growing very rapidly,” Jacobs said. “We are trying to be very good partners and responding to what the needs are at the high schools. We’re hopeful that we will get more and more of those students going in the afternoon for dual enrollment so we can kind of spread it out a little bit.
“As far as the technical college, I can tell you that I have Ray’s (Perren) cellphone number and I use it fairly often,” she added. “I did call him late Friday before classes started for him on Monday (in August) with a desperate plea to please look at a student who was falling through the cracks.”
Moody said Hall County is working to develop leaders in response to what officials have seen as a “national crisis in regards to leadership in this country in education.”
“We’ve been very intentional about developing future leaders, school-level leaders, system leaders as well,” he said. “In addition, we’ve worked with school level teaching leadership with peer coaching and improving the practice of teaching. We have just begun our aspiring principals group where we’re working on our future principals in our school system. We’ve taken ownership of leadership development, and it’s starting to really pay off and make a difference.”