The Botetourt County School Board is expected to approve a plan Thursday that will provide high school students with better options for gaining college credits for courses they take beginning next fall.

The board got an overview of the administration’s proposal to address what have become  complicated issues with dual enrollment courses after a decision this summer by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC) that it would not recognize credits if a dual enrollment class had students who were not taking the class for college credit.

Dual enrollment courses have been a blessing for Botetourt students who have been able to earn college credits in their high school classrooms for a number of years— in many cases, saving thousands of dollars in college tuition fees, and in other cases cutting as many as two years off their four-year college careers.

But the school division isn’t equipped financially or with enough qualified teachers to offer dual enrollment-only courses, Assistant Superintendent Dr. Janet Womack told the board at its work session last Thursday morning.

So, the administration, high school principals, guidance counselors and representatives from both Virginia Western Community College and Dabney S. Lancaster Community College have worked since summer on a recommendation that will allow county students to continue to get college credits.

That plan includes adding more Advance Placement (AP) courses, providing more online dual enrollment courses in the high schools, and providing transportation from the high schools to the community colleges so students can enroll in classes there during the day.

The two community colleges have pledged to work with the school division to make the appropriate courses fit into the school division’s schedule.

The upshot of the effort— it could mean some high school students earn associates degrees by the time they receive their high school diplomas. Currently, on Health Sciences students are is able to take advantage of that possibility.

Under the administration’s proposal, the school division would add six AP courses to the seven already offered. Some would be offered through Virtual Virginia as online courses.

Virtual Virginia offers 16 different AP courses.

Womack said the school division should also consider working to offer the AP Capstone Diploma.

By becoming a Capstone Division, the schools would offer AP Seminar and Research courses that  “develop students’ skills in research, analysis, evidence-based arguments, collaboration, writing, and presenting.”

Students who receive the diploma standout in the college application process, Womack said.

The challenge with offering dual enrollment courses is the teacher must have a master’s degree and 18 hours in the content area being taught, and be approved by the community college, Instructional Supervisor Mike Ketron told the School Board.

Finding those teachers is becoming difficult for school divisions—particularly in the maths and sciences— generally because of the public school division’s pay structure.

That coupled with the SACSCOC decision about having “mixed classes” and other factors have created a challenge not only for Botetourt but other school divisions.

Varying tuition rates.

He said those factors include varying tuition rates between community colleges, the implications for the school division budget for courses taught by the community college faculty, a lack of understanding for parents/students on transferable credit, the implications for future financial aid and equitable access for county students.

Under the proposal “College for All,” the school division would:

  • Provide joint communication about career pathways from the school division, DSLCC, and VWCC .
  • Enhance career advising from BCPS staff (supervisors, administrators, instructors, and counselors).
  • Permit students to take community college courses online, or for a partial/whole day at the community college.
  • Permit students to pursue a career and technical education (CTE) pathways at the community college for programs that the school division does not offer.
  • Grant high school credit for courses that are part of a specialty program, fulfill a new General Education Certificate or an associate degree.
  • No longer offer single dual enrollment courses in either high school.

According to the presentation, the addition of Advanced Placement offerings would allow any student the opportunity to complete the required coursework for a General Studies Associate Degree, using a combination of AP and Dual Enrollment classes through virtual or on campus classes.

“Where we’re going, we’re stepping out and finding a different way of educating out students,” School Superintendent John Busher said of the plan. “This is providing a lot of opportunities for our students.”

He said a key will be educating parents “that have been educated in a traditional sense” about how the changes in the approach to education is necessary in today’s careers.

School Board Chair Michelle Crook wanted to be sure the changes would not affect the tuition assistance that both community colleges have for Botetourt high school graduates, and they won’t.

Still, students taking dual enrollment courses will have to pay for the credits they’re taking.

Womack said the recommendations are something the school division can sustain, no matter what decisions SACSCOC makes.

“We’re not patching and fixing like we have been,” Busher said.