June 26, 2008

Early College Building Nearing Completion

By Tiffany Shirley, News-Topic, Lenoir, N.C.

Jun. 26--A commitment to students and education in Caldwell County âⓚÂ" that's what the new Caldwell Early College High School multipurpose facility symbolizes. Beyond that, the nearly completed building represents a great deal of planning and a close collaboration between three Caldwell County governing entities.

Construction on the facility began May 1, 2007, but plans for the project and its many uses began long before contractors broke ground.

"When we talked with the (county) commissioners and the school board about the concept of the Early College, we made it clear to (them) that we were willing to commit for a period of time and space to start the Early College, but we weren't quite sure what the period of time was going to be," said Caldwell Community College and Technical Institute (CCC&TI) President Dr. Kenneth Boham. "We knew if it was successful and numbers (of students) at 75 per year, we would not be able to house an Early College here unless we received some help with square footage."

Boham said commitments on the part of the school board, county commissioners and the CCC&TI Board of Trustees made it possible to set the wheels in motion.

"We submitted a grant and all (trustees, school board and county commissioners) agreed to submit that grant for funding of the program," Boham said.

The total cost for the new facility is $8,606,475, and a date of Aug. 14 has been placed on the scheduler's calendar for North Carolina Gov. Mike Easley to be on the CCC&TI campus to officially open the building. The building was contracted to be completed June 23, but if the requested contract extensions are granted, it is expected to be finished in mid-July. Boham said he is optimistic that it will be ready for students when they return to classes Aug. 7.

According to Boham, there are several benefits associated with having the multipurpose facility, including the opportunity for Early College students to continue to thrive while remaining on the CCC&TI campus.

"Students are exposed to a very nurturing environment that's pretty well rooted in education and service," Boham said. "It's a situation where they are exposed to the collegiate atmosphere and that level of work will certainly help to those students' maturity and our focus as well is on continuing that success."

But the benefits don't stop there. If the 75 new Early College students enrolling each year at the Early College stay for five years, they eventually will be taking most of their classes at CCC&TI, something Boham said is beneficial to not only those students but also the college itself.

"That gives us an opportunity to make sure we have stability in our enrollment, or at least we can look at the point where our enrollment will be hopefully moving steadily up, instead of falling off, because that has implications for our budget," he said. "While that's not the most important thing, if we don't have the money, we're not going to be here. There's a correlation between students and funding."

Boham said increased enrollment was only one of the aspects taken into consideration when pushing to have the Early College on the campus of the college. The facility, which is designed so another wing can be added in the future to increase expansion opportunities, will allow Early College students to continue breaking the barrier between the high school and college curriculum.

"Educationally, in looking at a continuum and being able to have the students here and working them, we're preparing high school students for collegiate level work," Boham said. "Those students aren't going to need remediation because they are with us from the start. We're certainly developing a group of students that (CCC&TI) faculty will be able to interact with and prepare for collegiate-level work while they're in high school. They are our students, too, and we have the responsibility to make sure they are prepared."

The multipurpose facility also will create additional space at the college in the A building, where Early College classes have been taking place, as well as the B building, where the cosmetology and nail technology labs currently are housed.

In addition to freeing up space at CCC&TI, the Early College facility also will alleviate an immediate need to build a new high school in the county.

"That's 75 less students each year that would be attending the (three) high schools," Boham said. "It's a win for taxpayers because a new high school would cost (between) $35-50 million. We already had the property here, and it will be getting utilized from eight in the morning until 10 at night."

Boham said the fact that nearly 180 students are vying for the 75 slots at the Early College each year says a lot about the program.

"It's the second highest performing early college in the state and received that after only being in existence for a year. Certainly the community sees it is a good thing," he said. "It's a win, win, win, win situation all around."

In addition to the advantages it will provide to the college, the school system and taxpayers, Boham said the new facility also will benefit Early College students, their parents and economic development in the county.

"We've seen a lot of people outside of the community show an interest in this," Boham said. "Externally, there are a lot of people who perceive that we are doing something right in our community. It's a good economic development tool and good situation to be in."

Early College students also have the opportunity to take courses at CCC&TI without paying the cost of tuition or books, and upon graduation they will receive a diploma, and many will have earned an associate degree.

"(Early College) students have the option of doing two years of college work at virtually no cost," Boham said. "Tuition and books are the two most expensive things associated with college. That really helps mom and dad."

Early College students are selected to attend through various requirements, including grades, community involvement, citizenship and a sit-down interview. The group of students chosen also is required to reflect the demographics of Caldwell County. Although attending the Early College is a great opportunity, Boham said it is not ideal for every student, and he hopes those high- schoolers not accepted to the Early College will explore other academic programs available in the county that can help them get a jump-start on their futures, including the Caldwell Career Center Middle College.

"There are options and opportunities out there through other programs at the institution, and they are things people need to investigate," Boham said. "If a student does not get into the Early College, it doesn't necessarily mean they're doomed."

With the construction of the facility taking place before the community's eyes, Boham said he hopes it will mean as much to Caldwell County as it does to those who have had a hand in making it possible.

"It's a fabulous concept, and I think it works well to show what this community values," Boham said. "It's serving our high school students. It's serving our community, and it's serving our students by allowing us to expand."


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