Opportunities for high school students to engage in purposeful and intentional postsecondary education help to build a college-going mindset. That may be the understatement of a lifetime — but in Hamblen County, we want that statement to become a reality for ALL students before they finish high school.

In Tennessee, these educational experiences are called EPSOs, or early postsecondary opportunities. In Hamblen County Schools, we promote a wide variety of these options: advanced placement, dual enrollment, local and state dual credit, and state-recognized industry certifications. 

When students have these early opportunities to be successful in college-type situations while in a more sheltered environment, we can support them in being successful. As a result, students develop an “I can do this” attitude. We also know that students who complete an EPSO are more likely to enroll in and complete college.

If our goal is for every student to be as successful as they can be, how can we expand EPSO opportunities to ensure all students are able to take advantage of them?

As supervisor of Career and Technical Education (CTE) in Hamblen County, I have a deep passion to help our students find pathways to careers that are rewarding and sustaining for their futures. A big part of that is helping students align the correct EPSO to their postsecondary and career goals. Hamblen County is uniquely situated, having both Walters State Community College and the Tennessee College of Applied Technology (TCAT) Morristown in our hometown. With two Tennessee Promise campuses in our backyard, one would imagine that classroom seats would be overflowing with students from our two high schools. Yet that is not the case. Equally notable is the need to grow success rates of those who do attend.

Through my experience with the Complete Tennessee Leadership Institute, I have learned about programs and people who have taken on these challenges and are making a difference in their states and local communities. In particular, I’ve learned about the paradigm shift that transformed Georgia State University from a second-thought business school to a perennial powerhouse that supports students from all socioeconomic backgrounds, minority subgroups, and first-generation students.  

One of my biggest takeaways from this experience has been learning that those who are best positioned to promote EPSOs and recruit students to them may need to be coached on recruiting students to fill those classes.

Armed with that knowledge, I have undertaken the challenge to turn this around in Hamblen County. Too often, educators get caught up in believing that our job is complete after announcing that any student wishing to register for dual enrollment should contact the guidance office. We gave them the information, right? And students need to take ownership of their education, right? Well, not so in Hamblen County — not any longer!

Broadening our partnership with the two local colleges and pulling in high school representatives who work with students from different sub-groups, we formed a collaborative to intentionally reach out to students. My challenge to this team was to find one student (and then another) who they felt would benefit from dual enrollment (hint: they all will) and encourage them to enroll. With more than 1,500 potential students to reach, a goal of increasing dual enrollment by 40 (20 at each high school) was admittedly modest. As of this writing, we have well exceeded that goal with a total of 110 students (62 and 48, respectively) registered for an introductory college experience dual enrollment course this fall.

Through the college experience course, newly created layers of support, and an added emphasis on establishing individualized career pathways, we believe more students will take advantage of dual enrollment. And, most importantly, we believe they will succeed. 

Chuck Carter is supervisor of career and technical education for Hamblen County, Tennessee.