Northland Pioneer College helps provide rural Arizona students with college courses

Nestled in Holbrook, Arizona is the state’s smallest community college — Northland Pioneer College (NPC). The school is using technology to accomplish their goal of helping provide high school students in rural Arizona with access to college classes.

According to Northland, the school noticed a drastic decline in the number of dual-enrollment students in local high schools because districts could have been unable to find teachers with the level of expertise needed to teach advanced courses.

“The teacher shortage in Arizona has been cited as one of the primary causes for a decline in enrollment in high school dual enrollment courses,” Northland’s Renell Heister said. “As high school dual-enrollment instructors have retired or moved from the area, Districts have been unable to replace them.”

In 2015, Northland earned a five-year Title III, Part A Native American Serving Non-Tribal Institution grant from the U.S. Department of Education to enact Project TALON (Technology to Advance Learning Outcomes at Northland) and deliver concurrent enrollment instruction to high school students.

“TALON opens doors of opportunity for talented students in small rural high schools, where resources are not available to hire instructors qualified to teach advanced courses,” Heister said. “Using state-of-the-art technology, Northland Pioneer College instructors encourage the quest for knowledge through college-level courses, delivered to classrooms at the high schools.”

Through TALON, Northland instructors teach their courses using cutting edge technology with two monitors — one for the instructor and one to display content.

This technology creates better communication and connectivity by allowing students to see their classmates enrolled at other high schools and zooming in on whoever is speaking.

Between Fall of 2016 and Fall of 2018, TALON saw a total of 1,218 enrollments and served 562 “unique high school students,” especially under-served populations with roughly half considered ethnic minorities, the school said. It has also provided 114 individuals with developmental courses in adult basic education and GED test preparation.

“Northland has always been a pioneer in the use of technology for delivery of instruction to its nine locations,” Heister, TALON project director, said. “TALON has shown these rural students, who so often are first-generation college students, that they can succeed in college and reach their educational goals. That is part of [our] mission – to provide, support and promote lifelong learning.”

Students who receive a C grade or better earn both a high school and college credit. So far 90 percent of enrolled participants have passed.

According to Heister, 15 percent of the high school students who graduated in the spring of 2017 and 13 percent of 2018 spring graduates went on to enroll at Northland.

That is the primary goal of the grant – to improve postsecondary attainment,” Heister said. “NPC offers scholarship search workshops and encourages these students to participate in NPC student clubs and activities. Most are now recognizing that they are not just high school students, but NPC students as well.”

Northland is currently offering TALON at more than 14 high schools and offers courses in economics, composition, history, math, government and Spanish.

“TALON has been a win-win, for high school students, their districts and NPC,” Heister said. “The facts show it has been a success, now we need to continue the momentum for the benefit of more students.”

Emily Richardson

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