Berks County Technical Academy
Berks Career and Technology Center and Reading Muhlenberg Career and Technology Center in partnership with Reading Area Community College and Bloomsburg University
Overview of Initiative
The Berks County Technical Academy is a partnership among Reading Area Community College (RACC), Bloomsburg University, Berks Career and Technology Center (BCTC), and Reading Muhlenberg Career and Technology Center (RMCTC). As stated on the RACC website, the Academy “offers students a pathway for developing advanced skills and college credits toward an associate’s and/or bachelor’s degree while still in high school at no cost.”
High school students who participate in the Academy are jointly enrolled at RACC and one of the two CTCs. The college curriculum is delivered at the CTCs and is taught by CTC teachers serving as adjunct RACC instructors; however, these credits are easily transferable to other colleges upon completion of an Associate’s Degree because they appear on a RACC college transcript. Students may complete up to 18 college credits, tuition-free, during their sophomore and junior years of high school. Students then earn up to 12 additional college credits during their senior year by attending classes on RACC’s campus during the school day. Tuition during students’ senior year is currently being subsidized by the CTC and this is contingent on the continued availability of local and state funds.
Each of the Technical Academy programs leads to a specific two-year degree at RACC. While in high school, students may complete as many as 27 college credits from RACC; this is nearly half of the required credits needed for an associate’s degree. After high school graduation, students who participated in the Technical Academy can easily transition to full-time status at RACC and complete an associate’s degree. Further, through a partnership with Bloomsburg University, Technical Academy students can complete a bachelor’s degree, without leaving the RACC campus.
Extensive collaboration exists between teachers at the CTCs and RACC college professors, ensuring that teachers at both CTCs use the identical curriculum, textbooks, and assessments that are being used at RACC. One difference, however, is that the RACC courses offered at the CTC may be taught by semester or across a full year depending on what works best for the CTC instructor; identical classes taught at RACC all operate on a semester basis. Other than pacing, the same expectations are held for content and student performance.
The Academy concept originated from RACC's mission to create more opportunities for local students to pursue postsecondary education. RACC engaged the administrators from BCTC and RMCTC to work together and create a pathway for students to access the college's programs.
In order to implement the partnerships, administrators at BCTC and RMCTC had to align their secondary and postsecondary curricula. At BCTC, the Academy pathway was created from programs with existing articulation agreements in place between the CTC and RACC, specifically the Mechatronics Engineering Technology program and the robotics and automation technology program. Most of the curriculum development work involved sequencing the secondary curriculum in a manner that would allow students to complete the five or six RACC courses by the end of their second year in the program so they could go to the RACC campus in year three to complete the additional three courses.
At RMCTC, preparation to participate in the Computer Technology and Business Management partnership primarily involved the alignment of curriculum. When the partnership was established, RMCTC did not have a “companion” program to be able to participate in the Mechatronics Engineering Technology program partnership. Therefore, RMCTC administrators made the decision to close a program to create space, purchase equipment over a three-year time period, renovate the facility, and adopt a curriculum that aligned with the Academy. In 2014, RMCTC opened a program titled Engineering & Automation Technology and enrolled its first class of students. RMCTC will begin transitioning these students when they are seniors to RACC’s campus at the start of the 2016-2017 school year.
The Academy was officially launched at the start of the 2013-2014 school year, although BCTC piloted the program one year earlier. As of 2014, four programs were offered though the Technical Academy: Mechatronics Engineering Technology, Computer Technology, Business Management, and Electronic Health Records and Healthcare Information Technology. All of these programs lead to an Associate's Degree.
BCTC started the Technical Academy as a pilot in the 2011-2012 school year with 12 students enrolled in Mechatronics Engineering Technology program. Since that pilot year, enrollment in the Technical Academy programs has grown to approximately 100 students in the 2014-2015 school year. In 2013-2014, 68 students were registered in and successfully completed one or more college courses through the Technical Academy and 98 students completed one or more Technical Academy courses during the 2014-2015 school year. The Technical Academy has quickly become a highly sought after program by academically proficient students in BCTC’s 16 participating school districts.
At RMCTC, 38 students were enrolled in the Technical Academy at the start of the 2015-2016 school year, with the first class of enrollees from the 2013-2014 school year transitioning to RACC during the afternoon session. All but two students have remained in the program, maintaining a GPA (2.5) acceptable for continued participation. Enrollments have shown steady increases with a three-year goal of reaching 75 to 100 students.
The immediate next steps will focus on continued development and marketing of the program. Staff at RMCTC and BCTC are working to attract a broad range of students to the Technical Academy, including eighth and ninth grade students who are making a decision about attending a CTC. Since enrollment in the Technical Academy requires that students have a minimum 3.0 grade point average, they are also reaching out to academically high-achieving students who might not otherwise consider attending a CTC, but can benefit from the level of coursework the Academy offers.
The next opportunity to expand the Technical Academy may occur in Machining through a degree program RACC is currently developing. The CTCs are anticipating the potential for enrolling students into this program at the start of the 2016-2017 school year.
Administrators agree that ongoing dialogue is an important component of a partnership between a community college and CTCs. They also note the importance of establishing operational procedures to provide structure and consistency for students and staff, and the priority of preparing staff to teach the RACC courses in a manner consistent with the college’s assessment and grading protocols and timetables.
Dr. Anna Weitz, President
Dr. James Kraft, Administrative Director
Mr. Gerald Witmer, Director
Careers in 2 Years
After interviewing 96 companies in their region, the Greater Reading Economic Partnership (GREP) uncovered a critical workforce need: 47 percent of employers identified a lack of skills as a workforce challenge and business constraint, and 27 percent identified a lack of technical skills. In response, GREP developed a marketing campaign called "Careers in 2 Years." According to its website, “The campaign is designed to raise awareness about career opportunities and address perceptions that technical education doesn’t provide successful career pathways. We want students to consider attending a career technology center and a technical education career path... Reading Muhlenberg Career and Technology Center, Berks Career and Technology Center, and Reading Area Community College all offer customizable training and retraining programs for companies or individuals on state of the art equipment.”