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ACC to expand virtual courses for area high schoolers

ALPENA — Alpena Community College will receive $10,000 from the Michigan College Access Network to train additional instructors to expand virtual college credit-earning opportunities for high school students in Northeast Michigan.

Darrin Lightner, dual enrollment coordinator at ACC, said that, especially during the coronavirus pandemic that has closed school buildings for the rest of the academic year, having the videoconferencing option available has been a great benefit to the students. He said the main focus of the virtual options is to reach students in remote areas.

“We really consider videoconferencing classes to be a close second to face-to-face instruction, and certainly a step or two above online classes, especially for high school students who may not have the best personal schedule,” Lightner said. “Having this course gives them planned times and days to attend class and they can interact with the instructor and other students in the course, whether they’re in the same room with them or at another high school or the ACC campus.”

The Video Conferencing System Rural Student Outreach program at ACC will train 11 new instructors to teach college courses to high school students.

Lightner said some instructors in the future will participate in videoconferencing by having students in front of them in a classroom, along with additional cameras faced toward them so virtual-learning high school students outside the classroom can watch.

Lightner said there are no more than three locations per course, including the students who might be in front of the instructor.

“The college has invested quite a bit into camera equipment and receiving units at area high schools, so this grant is something to push along the process of opening up additional classes to make them available to area high school students,” he said.

Ryan Fewins-Bliss, MCAN executive director, said kids in rural areas can struggle to access college classes, and it’s an equity issue for low-income students and students who would be the first generation in their family to go to college.

“Folks can’t access secondary education because they’re just so physically distant from each other,” Fewins-Bliss said. “This grant will help make it easier for students at at least 10 area high schools to be able to access post-secondary education without having to leave their high school.”

ACC will also offer virtual college courses to five additional high schools: Onaway, Inland Lakes, Wolverine, and potentially Posen are being considered, Lightner said. Officials have yet to decide on the fifth high school.

In the past few years, dual enrollment, in which students attend high school and college simultaneously, has increased, the main area of enrollment growth for colleges in Michigan, Lightner said .

“From the college’s standpoint, it’s a two-fold thing,” Lightner said. “We want to provide those opportunities, but we also want to try to at least maintain or increase our enrollment at the same time.”

Meakalia Previch-Liu can be reached at 989-358-5680 or mprevich-liu@thealpenanews.com.

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