Special to Wallace State website. Reprinted with permission from The Cullman Times.

By Trent Moore | Posted: Wednesday, April 8, 2015 5:30 am

On the heels of the long-running Fast Track academic program that allows students to receive duel credit for high school and college coursework, the Cullman County Board of Education and Wallace State Community College are teaming up for a similar program framed around industrial training.

The Cullman Area Career Center will expand its program to include classes on the Wallace State campus as part of the initiative, and focus on college and career pathways through integration of academic, career technical, and workforce experiences. Officials say the plan is to provide opportunities for students to attend the Cullman Area Career Center in earlier grades and provide additional training to ensure students are well prepared for successful employment in industry-related fields.

The Fast Track for Industry program will focus on students in grades 11 and 12, while the Cullman Area Career Center located at Vinemont will expand its program to include students in grades 9-12.

“This is phase one of a larger vision that we hope to bring to Cullman County students,” Cullman County schools superintendent Dr. Craig Ross said in a statement. “I am very excited about this opportunity for our students and very appreciative of our strong relationship with Wallace State Community College. Thanks to Dr. Karolewics for helping us make this vision a reality.”

Cullman Area Career Center Director Jeff Curtis noted the Fast Track for Industry should be able to give local students a head start in the career field or additional training they might find at a university.

“This is a great opportunity for our students and their families,” he said. “Students could actually enter this program as a junior and graduate high school with an associate degree, possibly at no cost, and be ready to transfer straight to a university and/or go to work.”

In the same way the academic Fast Track program compresses time spent in high school and college by taking more rigorous college courses that allow students to receive both high school and college credit, students in the industrial Fast Track will earn college credits towards an industry recognized credential and may qualify for free tuition through Career/Tech Dual Enrollment tax credit-funded scholarships available for qualified career technical programs.

“This is a shining example of a perfect partnership designed with the end in mind; that is, transitioning motivated young adults through postsecondary education and training and into the workforce more quickly. Everyone wins,” said Dr. Vicki Karolewics, Wallace State President, said in a statement. “Business and industry have ready access to a middle skills workforce. Parents save money on higher education tuition. Students complete their postsecondary education earlier and, as they enter the workforce sooner, the state gains taxpayers that contribute to a sound economic base. At Wallace State, our strategic plan is Readiness3, assuring that our students are Ready for college, Ready for work and Ready for life by helping students start early, start right, finish, and succeed.”

Officials say they believe the program will help improve the systemwide graduation rate, increase the mastery of skills and knowledge in industry-related fields, increase opportunities for intensive training and work experiences in an industry setting, increase opportunities to earn an industry-related credential, and provide more skilled employees for local industries and businesses.

“Fast Track for Industry is a tremendous opportunity for Cullman County students,” Dr. Susan Patrick, Secondary Curriculum Coordinator for Cullman County Schools, said. “We are excited to offer our students another avenue by which to become college and career ready. This partnership with local industries and Wallace State is a benefit for everyone in Cullman County.”