Early College and Career Academy Enhances Equity in CTE

by Lauren Provencher / Sep 10, 2020

The Education for Employment (EFE) System #330 and Parkland College in Champaign, Illinois, have collaborated to accelerate postsecondary pathways in career and technical education (CTE) for high school students through the Early College and Career Academy (ECCA).

Launched in 2015, ECCA aims to provide high school juniors and seniors in EFE System #330 with opportunities to earn credits at Parkland College that count toward a high school diploma and college degree programs. EFE #330 is a K-12 CTE cooperative made up of 14 public school districts in Champaign, Ford, Piatt, and Douglas counties.

ECCA currently offers eight different programs for students to choose from: Automotive Technology, Computer Networking, Computer Programming, Industrial Technology, Criminal Justice, Certified Nursing Assistant, Emergency Medical Services, and a new Education pathway for aspiring teachers. Each program is comprised of Parkland College coursework that allows students hands-on experience in fields they typically wouldn’t interact with in high school classes.

“There are a number of benefits to students that choose this program, but maybe the greatest benefit is the ability for students to pursue career-specific coursework while they are still in high school, which will help them make a better-informed decision about their postsecondary path prior to high school graduation,” said Nick Elder, director of EFE.

Along with increasing students’ confidence in their postsecondary plans, ECCA also provides them with the necessary tools to be successful in their desired fields. Several of the programs allow students to earn licenses, industry-recognized certifications, and/or Parkland certificates.

For example, students who complete five academy classes during two years in the Automotive Technology program earn the Parkland College Maintenance and Light Repair certificate. Second-year students also have the opportunity to earn ASE student certifications. Similarly, students who complete both the Computer Programming and Computer Networking programs will earn the Parkland College Computer Foundations certificate. 

The program also prepares students for industry-specific exams that can further their careers. Students who have completed the Certified Nursing Assistant program, for instance, are eligible for the state CNA licensing exam. Likewise, those who complete the Emergency Medical Services program, in both the health professions and fire services focuses, are able to take the EMT state licensing exam after graduation.

Students typically earn 10 to 14 credit hours per academic year in their desired program area. All programs take place on the Parkland campus, and classes are held in the morning.

For students looking to purse a baccalaureate degree program after high school graduation, ECCA offers an easier transition from their program area to a four-year university.

"Parkland has formed two plus two agreements with four-year universities in several of the program areas, so once a student earns their associate's degree, the transfer process is seamless."                         - Nick Elder

“Each ECCA program is part of a secondary/postsecondary program of study with an associate’s degree option,” Elder said. “Additionally, Parkland has formed two plus two agreements with four-year universities in several of the program areas, so once a student earns their associate’s degree, the transfer process is seamless.” 

The student response for ECCA and its programs has been positive, with enrollment increasing each year. In the inaugural year of the fall of 2015, ECCA had more than 80 students. Currently, 186 participants are enrolled.

According to Elder, students can study topics that interest them and expand their social circle to include students from surrounding school districts. He added that ECCA benefits participating school districts by providing opportunities for students who do not require a substantial investment in learning facilities.   

The cost for enrolled students is relatively low, and financial aid is unavailable for high school dual-credit students. The average cost for one year of tuition is approximately $2000, but many of the participating districts are covering 100% of the tuition costs for the ECCA program. Others pay around 50% and families are required to pay the remainder in the form of curricular fees. Required textbooks are also loaned to students by the EFE #330 office.

Elder said most of ECCA’s enrollment is made up of students who don’t have to handle the bulk of tuition and fees for classes.

Two women sitting in front of a computer and working on it“By allowing these students a head start on their postsecondary education at little to no cost to their family, it allows them to explore their career interests and hopefully finalize their postsecondary plans prior to high school graduation,” he said.

For secondary and postsecondary educators who are interested in developing pro-college partnerships for students, Elder said building trust and relationships are important aspects of success. He also stressed the importance of the student experience.

“If we keep the focus on providing the best experience for students throughout their participation in ECCA, difficult situations and differences of opinion can be resolved. I think it’s important to start small to work out any unanticipated issues prior to scaling the partnership,” he said.

Visit the ECCA website and the 2020-2021 program guide for more information.