Dual enrollment student Jalen Roberts was the youngest person and only woman in her welding courses at J.F. Drake State Community and Technical College in Huntsville.
Through the dual enrollment program at Drake, Roberts graduated in May 2014 as a certified welder and quickly had three job offers. As a teenager, she was already working in her career field, years before her high school classmates will finish their college degrees.
“I have a lot of friends who go to Alabama A&M University, and they’re still going through the basics,” she said. “It’s cool because they’ve said they’re proud of me, and I get to be an example for my friends.”
More than 11,500 Alabama high school students earn over 35,000 college credit hours through dual enrollment annually. While some students use the program to finish entry-level college courses, others take dual enrollment classes to learn a trade.
“Dual enrollment is fantastic because it lets high school students jumpstart their careers or even sample a career to see if they really like it,” said Karl Henry, Drake division chair for engineering technology.
Numerous certificate programs available through dual enrollment fit the Alabama Department of Labor’s list of high-demand jobs that don’t require a four-year degree, including nursing, electrical engineering, computer science and welding. Those careers have average annual salaries above $34,000, much higher than Alabama’s average 2013 per capita income of $23,680.
“It would be really difficult for a certified dual enrollment graduate to not find a good-paying job,” Henry said. “I had an employer who interviewed one of my classes, and they wanted to hire every student. If you’re a technician these days, you can get a job.”
Business and community leaders can also benefit from dual enrollment. Through the Alabama Future Workforce Initiative (AFWI), taxpayers can donate to the Career-Technical Dual Enrollment Program to provide student scholarships. In the 2013-2014 school year, 3,500 scholarships were awarded through AFWI.
Donors can claim a tax credit of up to 50 percent of the contribution, not to exceed $500,000 per tax year. They also can designate 80 percent of the contribution to a specific career-technical program.
The AFWI aims to involve community members who want to help local students earn a degree and employers who need skilled labor.
“We have some great things going on right now with partnerships in industry,” said Drake welding instructor Ryan Green. “There are so many welders retiring right now, and there’s not enough of the younger generation of welders to take their place. Alabama has a lot of opportunity for welders with aerospace, oil rigs, agricultural machinery and shipyards in the state.”
Green, who is Roberts’ welding teacher, said she is a perfect example of the success a student can achieve through dual enrollment.
Roberts still works as a professional welder, but she’s also back at Drake pursuing an advanced manufacturing degree. Her goal is to follow in Green’s footsteps and become an instructor, teaching others the skills needed to weld.
“When it comes to welding, metal is essential to the world because it’s needed for bridges, boats and cars,” Roberts said. “Welding is a way to leave a signature on the world.”
Dual enrollment is available through the Alabama Community College System, which includes 23 community colleges, two technical colleges and one military college.
For more information about dual enrollment or scholarships through AFWI, visit AlabamaDualEnrollment.com.