HANCEVILLE, Ala. – Tucked away on a corner of the Wallace State Community College (WSCC) campus is a collection of non-traditional classrooms designed to serve a group of non-traditional students. In classrooms that are part computer lab and part den (Prefer easy chairs and recliners to school desks? You might want to take a look!), students come and go on a flexible schedule to work on their high school credits through an online program while attending regular college classes through a partnership between WSCC and the Cullman County Board of Education (CCBOE) known as Fast Track for Industry and the Fast Track Academy, which allow students to work toward employment credentials and even college degrees while still in high school. Some of the students in the various programs even receive their associate degrees from WSCC before they get their high school diplomas.
Fast Track program Counselor Dr. Ginger Hogeland told The Tribune, “Cullman County students have a unique opportunity through the Fast Track program, a partnership between Cullman County Schools and Wallace State College. Our students at Fast Track have the opportunity to attend Wallace State during their junior and senior years in high school. Many of them earn their two-year associate degree almost a month before graduating high school. They take their high school classes with the Fast Track teachers in the general studies building on the campus of Wallace State and their college courses with regular college students in various buildings on campus.”
The program offers a wide array of academic/vocational pathways for its students to pursue, including:
- Agriculture/Horticulture Agribusiness
- HVAC General Technology
- Automotive Service Technology
- Child Development
- Collision Repair General Technology
- Computer Science with options of Programming, Microcomputer Applications, Cyber-Infused Networking Technology and Mobile Web Technology
- General Diesel Technology with a specialized option of Commercial Vehicle Applications
- Electronics Technology with options of Biomedical, Communications and Mechatronics
- Emergency Medical Services (EMT)
- Engineering Technology
- Health Information Technology
- Machine Tool Technology with options of CNC, Tool and Die and Injection Molding
- Medical Assistant
- Medical Laboratory Technician
- Administrative Assistant
- Medical Administrative Assistant
- Paralegal Studies
- Pharmacy Technology – short term certificate only
Most of the pathways offer both an associate of applied science degree for students starting at the beginning of their junior year, and multiple short-term certificates that can benefit students even if they wait until their senior year to enroll.
Students who do both their junior and senior years in the program have the opportunity to get out of school and into the workforce up to four years ahead of their classmates who follow a traditional high school to college track.
Said Hogeland, “A lot of our students can come through here and finish their two-year degree at Wallace, and immediately start to work at 18 years old, making as much money as most people would make with a four-year degree. And then they have no student loans to deal with, so they’re better all the way around. Their families are better off, they’re better off, they get to start to work earlier.”
Fast Track students enjoy certain financial advantages through innovative funding offerings.
Hogeland explained, “Students in our program are awarded a scholarship covering two college courses each semester. Additional scholarships may be used to cover the cost of added college courses. Also, Wallace is currently participating in the PELL Experiment allowing high school students to apply for and receive PELL Grant funding if they qualify. These additional funding sources allow students to take a full load of college courses. While other college graduates are making monthly payments on student loans years after finishing college, our students are enjoying the freedom of being debt-free.”
The WSCC/CCBOE partnership is currently the only one of its kind in Alabama offering PELL Grants.
Susan Harris oversees high school science studies for Fast Track students.
She told The Tribune, “We’re just excited because our students are able to come and get a jump on life. Actually, it changes their lives and their families’ lives. I taught in a traditional classroom for a long, long, long, long time, and there are some students who are just not made for school: to sit in a classroom for seven hours a day and hand write and do schoolwork; that’s just not them. This program is perfect for those students.
“I actually had students I taught at Good Hope, and then when we transitioned down here, they came with me. They were those average students, and then they excelled when they got in their welding or their diesel class, because that’s what they’re good at.
“I can’t say enough good things about it. It’s just that we’ve had a lot of successes and hope to see a lot more successes.”
The Tribune will be highlighting some of the programs of CCBOE’s Fast Track through the school year, so check back for more!
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