Vol. 25, No. 1: Great Things Happening in the New Year

West Virginia Has the EDGE on Career Pathways

Amy Dennis

West Virginia is supporting career pathways through EDGE: Earn a Degree-Graduate Early, an initiative formalized into legislation in 2012. EDGE satisfies the four Perkins IV Program of Study (POS) requirements: (1) Incorporate and align secondary and postsecondary education elements. (2) Include academic and CTE content in coordinated, non-duplicative progression of courses. (3) Offer the opportunity, where appropriate, for secondary students to acquire postsecondary credits. (4) Lead to an industry-recognized credential or certificate at the postsecondary level, or an associate or baccalaureate degree.

Several elements are critical to the successful implementation of Perkins IV POS. This article focuses on legislation, partnerships, and accountability in relation to the EDGE program (US Department of Education 2010).

The EDGE initiative builds on a foundation of consortia that were already in place at the time of the program's inception. Each consortium consists of at least one community and technical college (CTC) and the area career and technical education (CTE) centers in the CTC's service region. In the consortium for West Virginia University at Parkersburg, the area Regional Education Service Agency (RESA), Workforce West Virginia, and Adult Basic Education agencies also participate. The monthly meeting of the consortium allows for regular collaboration between regional agencies and provides opportunities to explore and examine career pathway issues across a broad spectrum.

The state of West Virginia understood the importance of creating legislation that would support career pathways. According to the US Department of Education, "legislation and policies at the state and local level should mandate, support, and encourage such practice" (2010). While EDGE was initiated in 2001, it wasn't until 2012 that the WV State Board of Education and the WV Community and Technical College Council passed Senate Bill 436, a Joint Rule for the Administration of EDGE. This rule sets forth the standards for the administration of the EDGE program (D'Antoni 2012).

The statutory goals of the WV EDGE initiative, as established by Senate Bill 436, are:

  1. Create incentives for more students to continue their education beyond high school by providing all students with information about and access to courses that will prepare them to meet college-level standards.

  2. Expand successful concurrent enrollment programs that include all students, not just those who are designated as college bound.

  3. Align junior and senior year secondary courses with community and technical college certificate and associate degree programs.

  4. Increase the number of students attending public community and technical colleges by participating in a collaborative partnership between the public schools and the state community and technical colleges.

  5. Establish program of study pathways in combination with early entrance college courses which together allow a student to obtain an associate degree one year after high school graduation or to receive an associate degree along with the high school diploma (D'Antoni 2012).

A key component of EDGE is the articulation of college credit for technical courses offered at the area high schools and CTEs. Each community college in West Virginia creates its own standards for articulating EDGE credits. In 2014, WVU Parkersburg moved from a system of offering course-by-course articulated credits (x secondary course = y college credit) to articulating a block of specified college credits for students who complete secondary technical courses of study. For example, if a student completes a two-year secondary program in welding, they can articulate that into 13 credit hours at WVU Parkersburg. Thus a student can earn an entire semester of college credit leading to a one-year certificate or two-year degree in welding at WVU Parkersburg.

One major challenge presented by EDGE was that colleges were granting credit for courses they had little control over. Generally, EDGE-eligible courses are taught at high schools by high school instructors using high school texts, materials, and curricula. WVU Parkersburg and its consortium became concerned with credit integrity and wanted to find a solution that would maintain the spirit of the EDGE initiative while maintaining credit integrity.

The first step was to partner with the high schools in examining technical curricula. For several programs and courses, students could earn external and/or national certifications such as NCCER and Cisco A+. As many of the college programs also provided the same or very similar certifications, it was easy to identify crossover credits from high school programs to college programs that resulted in certification.

However, in program areas such as business and criminal justice, no state or nationally recognized external certification exists. WVU Parkersburg, in collaboration with the area CTEs, decided on a system of end-of-course testing. Below is a brief overview of the testing system:

  1. Test content was created as a collaboration between high school and college faculty.

  2. Tests are offered online, under control of the college, using the college learning management system (LMS).

    1. High school teachers have "proctor" access but not complete access.

    2. Test content is protected by the college.

    3. Various protocols for loading the students into the LMS had to be worked out.

  3. Students can request EDGE credit if they complete a specified program of study and score at least 75 percent on all required end-of-course testing.

While this system of testing has presented technical challenges, in general it has provided a secure and reliable system for identifying and validating students who have gained the necessary knowledge to have earned college credits. When WVU Parkersburg underwent its 10-year accreditation review by the High Learning Commission in spring of 2014, no problems or issues were identified with EDGE credit. Future plans for testing include simplifying the process for loading students into the LMS and working with a neighboring consortium and its community college to expand testing in the region.

The state of West Virginia is serious about its commitment to creating smoother career pathways and increasing degree and credential attainment. The EDGE initiative allows secondary students who have already chosen technical programs to continue their education at community colleges in non-duplicative progressions of courses that lead to industry-recognized credentials, certificates, and associate degrees. Strong partnerships are critical to the success of EDGE.

*West Virginia University at Parkersburg is the only community college in the state of West Virginia authorized to offer select four-year degrees.

Works Cited

D'Antoni, Kathy (West Virginia Board of Education). Senate Bill 436 EDGE: Earn a Degree-Graduate Early Annual Legislative Report. Charleston, WV: 2012.

U.S. Department of Education. Office of Vocational and Adult Education. Programs of Study: Local Implementation Readiness and Capacity Self-Assessment, A Tool for Local Colleges and Career Readiness. Berkeley, CA: MPR Associates, Inc.: 2010.

West Virginia Council for Community and Technical College Education and Board of Education. Series 28: Standards for the Administration of the West Virginia Earn a Degree-Graduate Early (EDGE) Program. ONLINE. 2014.

Amy Dennis is Program Manager for Secondary Programs at West Virginia University at Parkersburg. For more information, contact her at Amy.Dennis@wvup.edu.

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