Follow the Economy, Follow the Research: Coweta County prepared for the 21st Century

In the late 1990's, leaders in Coweta County’s business community described significant changes that would occur in local businesses during the early decades of the 21st century. Among these changes would be the need for all employees to become more highly skilled, more proficient with new technologies, and more productive in working with a global customer-base. The Coweta County School System listened, learned and changed in order to connect growing evidence from both the economy and from educational research. The change has led, among other innovations, to a far greater emphasis on both dual enrollment and work-based learning as tools to prepare high school students for an economy very different from that experienced by high school grads even as late as the 1990’s.

Business leaders told the School System that knowledge, skill, attitudes and credentials gained and earned by technical college students were important to business and industry. The Coweta County School System brought in West Georgia Technical College, changed to longer-contact “block” scheduling, and began planning ways that high school students could gain internship, apprenticeship and college study alongside adults. These building blocks not only changed the way instruction is delivered in high school, but also set the stage for the creation of Central Educational Center.

Dual Enrollment, among those building blocks, collects more and more attention in educational research. Dual Enrollment occurs when a high school student studies in the college classroom. The benefit of earning dual enrollment college credit includes earning simultaneous high school credit---two credits for the price of one. The University of Georgia paid particular attention to the way that Georgia high schools, including East Coweta, Newnan and Northgate High Schools, were beginning to find improved student performance when those students were studying alongside adults in Dual Enrollment programs taught by Georgia’s Technical Colleges. These dual enrollment programs were career-focused and combined teaching applicable core academic skills and highly technical industry-focused skills.

In a 2002 UGA study, researchers noted that the on-time graduation rate for Georgia high school students dual-enrolled in those programs in Georgia Technical Colleges was 98%, more than 25% greater than the on-time graduation rate for high school students not dual-enrolled in Georgia’s Technical Colleges. That diverse Georgia population of dual-enrolled students also experienced improved post-high-school performance versus their peers. 100% of those dual-enrolled grads moved on to additional post-secondary education or moved into the workforce, or achieved both, within approximately 120 days of graduation from high school.

In a follow-up 2006 UGA study, researchers noted that Georgia high school students dual-enrolled in Georgia’s Technical Colleges experienced success wherever they continued their post-secondary studies. In fact, after having dual enrolled in Georgia’s Technical Colleges, 77% of high school grads who studied at Georgia’s University System schools scored A,B, or C in ALL college-level coursework. This result began to link with the larger body of national evidence that showed increasingly good results from dual enrollment.

The performance of our Coweta County students now consistently exceeds the performance of students nationally in dual enrollment programs. In recent years, 100% of our diverse Coweta students who attempted dual enrollment, both career-focused and general core courses, with West Georgia Technical College, have earned college credits. The data nationally suggest that 90% of all American students reach this level of achievement. One of our conclusions in Coweta is that engaging our business community, learning and listening to their needs, helps the Coweta County School System to design and develop experiences that better prepare our students for success in today's global economy.