College Express gives students head start

DANVILLE — Unlike many graduating high school seniors, Shelby Filicsky isn't nervous about starting college later this year.

The Oakwood High School senior, who plans on attending Danville Area Community College in the fall, already is familiar with the campus and one of her instructors and has a semester's worth of college credit under her belt — thanks to the College Express program.

"I really like the program, and I feel like I've learned a lot," said Filicsky, who has learned how to use Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop and InDesign in her graphic arts classes, and has experience designing a T-shirt, sneaker, car and an original brand of bottled water geared toward kids, among other things. "It feels really good to be ahead."

On Tuesday, projects made by Filicsky and high school juniors and seniors from 11 public and private high schools in Vermilion and Iroquois counties were on display at the 2013 College Express Exhibition at DACC's Bremer Theater.

They ranged from flowers grown by horticulture students and food prepared by culinary arts students to handcuffing demonstrations by criminal justice students and a framed car engine and other under-the-hood components built by auto mechanics and welding students.

"It's a chance for students to show off what they learned in their classes throughout the semester," said Dwight Lucas II, a graphic design instructor and an exhibition organizer.

The College Express program is a partnership between DACC, the Vermilion Vocational Education Delivery System and area high schools and businesses. It offers dual credit to high school juniors and seniors in 17 career and technical education areas that can lead to associate degrees or certificates.

It was launched in the mid-2000s, after the Vermilion Occupational Technical Education Center closed in 2004.

"Area superintendents came to DACC and asked if we could support a career and technical education center for high school students," recalled Kietzmann, vice president of instruction and student services.

"Obviously, we wanted to do that," Kietzmann continued, adding that would encourage high school completion, increase post-secondary degree attainment and provide a skilled workforce to area employers. "And it's worked out exceptionally well."

The program started with fewer than 300 students. It currently averages about 450, VVEDS Director Nick Chatterton said.

The students take college-level classes in industrial technology, drafting, welding, auto body and auto mechanics, early-childhood education, health occupations, graphic design, computer networking, criminal justice and other areas at DACC for 1 hours a day five days a week.

"Students are really getting a hands-on education that they can't get through a textbook, and they're also applying a lot of the things they learn in a textbook to real-world applications," Chatterton said.

Most of the programs are designed to teach the first four technical courses over the course of a College Express student's junior and senior years.

"So, students could come to DACC having earned between 12 and 16 college credit hours that apply to the career of their choice," Kietzmann said. "In essence, they have the first semester out of the way."

Since the program's tuition, fees, books and most transportation is covered by DACC and the participating high school districts, that's a semester that students don't have to pay for out of their own pockets.

Chatterton said next year, students in manufacturing areas will have a chance to do paid internships through the National Institute of Metalworking Skills, a partnership between College Express, DACC and ThyssenKrupp Crankshaft and Presta. He would like to see that expand to other programs.

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