Hollins University has received $428,000 in federal government funding to enhance dual enrollment offerings for high school students in the Roanoke Valley region.
The appropriation is part of $200 million in funding secured by U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine for community projects in Virginia that is included in legislation signed by President Joe Biden to fund the government through Fiscal Year 2023.
“Dual enrollment courses make higher education more accessible and affordable for many of Virginia’s students, and it’s important that our schools have access to the qualified workforce they need to offer them,” Kaine said. “I am glad this funding will support Hollins University in expanding access to graduate studies for teachers in the Roanoke Valley to further their educations, qualify them to teach dual enrollment courses, and better serve students in the region.”
The Hollins project, which will be coordinated with Roanoke’s Virginia Western Community College, is designed to support the development of a new program for educators in Roanoke City Public Schools, Roanoke County Public Schools, and Botetourt County Public Schools who seek to complete graduate-level coursework in English, history, mathematics, or art in order to build dual enrollment teaching capacity and opportunities.
“In an increasingly complex world, education matters. Given the need for investment in advanced manufacturing, technology and communications, healthcare, and other industries that require advanced degrees, the Roanoke Valley is eager to produce more students prepared to complete bachelor’s degrees,” said Steven Laymon, vice president for graduate and continuing studies at Hollins. He cited that just 22 to 26% of Roanoke Valley residents have completed a bachelor’s degree compared to 37% statewide and 32% nationally.
“Available research suggests that dual enrollment can improve postsecondary success, boosting the number of students who graduate with two- and four-year degrees,” Laymon added. “This investment in building a new partnership to prepare local high schools to offer dual degrees will speed progress toward closing the educational achievement gap between the Roanoke Valley and the rest of the commonwealth.”
Lorraine Lange, Hollins’ director of graduate education programs, emphasized the area’s considerable need for more skilled teachers who can help dual enrollment students navigate the challenges of college-level learning. “The Roanoke region simply does not have enough teachers to teach dual enrollment courses. Only 78 dual enrollment courses were offered across the region in the spring of 2022, a steep decline from the 106 courses offered in the fall of 2018. This deprived hundreds of high schools of the opportunity to begin the work of accumulating college credits while in high school.”
Hollins’ Master of Arts in Teaching and the online Master of Arts in Teaching and Learning programs will serve as key components of the dual enrollment capacity project. “We also feature a Master of Arts in Liberal Studies (MALS), which, being entirely online, gives us immense flexibility in allowing us to offer a variety of graduate-level coursework in the arts and sciences,” Lange said, noting that dual enrollment teachers in Virginia must have a master’s degree and at least 18 hours of coursework in the relevant subject area. “We have a close relationship with Virginia Western and have partnered with them to produce courses to prepare high school teachers in the region to teach dual enrollment courses.”
Hollins will use the funding from Congress to pay all tuition costs to enroll 45 teachers from Roanoke area high schools in graduate-level courses in the coming year and will supply them with iPads and smart keyboards so that they can store lessons and content to make future planning easier.
“The result will be an acceleration in the preparation of high school teachers to offer dual enrollment courses, permitting students to earn college credit from Virginia Western Community College while finishing high school,” Laymon said.
Local public school system leaders are applauding the dual enrollment initiative. “The idea of using the interdisciplinary concentration in Hollins’ MALS program to allow high school teachers to get the required graduate hours is inspiring,” said Roanoke City Public Schools Superintendent Verletta White, while Jonathan Russ, superintendent of Botetourt County Public Schools, stated he believes “the option of offering accelerated courses, allowing teachers to complete the required credit hours in a more efficient fashion, will encourage more teachers to enroll.” Roanoke County Public Schools Superintendent Ken Nicely said, “We appreciate the opportunity to work with Hollins University to develop a solution to address this important need.”
Elizabeth Wilmer, vice president of academic and student affairs at Virginia Western Community College, expressed gratitude for how funding for the project will “enlarge the number of teachers who can enroll without paying the cost of study out of their own pocket,” and overall, “make this promising proposal a reality.”
The Hollins dual enrollment initiative builds upon efforts Lange and Wilmer spearheaded in 2021 to begin offering online graduate classes in English, history, and mathematics to help teachers throughout the Roanoke Valley and across Virginia qualify to teach dual enrollment courses. Teachers from as far away as Henry County and Richmond took advantage of the online courses for dual enrollment certification.
“Hollins University is proud to be a partner and a resource in the Roanoke Valley community,” said Hollins President Mary Dana Hinton. “This project reflects our commitment to education, both higher education and the critical work of K-12. We are honored to be on this journey with our local educational colleagues.”