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Degree in 3 Program Shortens Time to Completion

By Emily Rogan

K-12 and higher education partnership enables aspiring IT professionals to complete a bachelor’s degree in three years.

Kansas City is a hotbed for information technology companies. So hot that employers are apparently having a hard time finding enough qualified job applicants to fill open positions.

In 2013, the Kansas Department of Labor estimated that 819 jobs for computer and information systems managers would be available long-term in the community. All of those jobs would require at least a bachelor’s degree.

As demand for IT professionals intensifies, Johnson County Community College (JCCC) in Overland Park, Kan., has teamed up with the University of Kansas and two local school districts to develop a program that aims to get students through college (with a bachelor’s degree) and into the workforce faster.

How it works: Interested high school students enrolled in participating K-12 school districts—Olathe and Blue Valley are the two—will work with academic advisers to develop individual education plans that would allow students to:

  • Earn relevant college-level credits while still in high school. There is no limit to how many college credits students can earn while still in high school, but program administrators estimate 30 credits will be about average for the program.
  • Spend one year at JCCC to complete their associate degree.
  • Spend two years at the University of Kansas Edwards Campus to complete a Bachelor of Science degree in information technology.

Supporters of the program say the efforts will save students money by allowing them to move through the system quicker, and at a significantly reduced cost. At $88 per credit, JCCC credits cost significantly less than the $290-plus per credit that local students can expect to pay at KU’s Edwards Campus.

In addition to getting students into the workforce faster, JCCC President Joe Sopcich says the lower price tag should help students stay out of debt.

Extra help: Degree in 3 students will also benefit from continuous academic advising, from high school through the hiring process. Students will have an opportunity to secure hands-on internships and work with mentors, essentially paving the way for rapid post-graduate employment.

The future demands these kinds of relationships.

“The future demands these kinds of relationships,” says Sopcich. “The separate pieces were already there, but we sat down to figure out how to put them together to create a pathway for students to get great jobs.”

If Degree in 3 is successful, he says it could become a model for similar programs in other high-demand career fields. As the predominant animal health corridor in the country, Sopcich says his community would benefit from a comparable collaboration anchored in the sciences.

Getting there: Among the biggest challenges when introducing these accelerated learning programs is to “achieve scale” and continually increase the number of participants, says Sopcich. Not all high school students are prepared to choose a career path that early. And these types of programs require a certain level of commitment and discipline on the part of students to work effectively.

But, when it does work, Sopcich says, “Schools, students and employers all win.”

And so does the college, “The upshot for us is to be a part of high-level innovation,” says Sopcich.

How does your college work with industry to meet shifting economic demands? Tell us in the Comments. 

Emily Rogan

is a contributor to the 21st-Century Center.

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