Dr. Kathleen Nelson, interim president of Pierpont Community & Technical College, and Upshur County Schools Interim Superintendent Dr. Debra Harrison sign a memorandum of understanding Tuesday at Buckhannon-Upshur High School, cementing a new collaborative program called "One Walk, Two Degrees." / Photos by Katie Kuba

‘One Walk, Two Degrees’ program unveiled: Future B-UHS seniors will be able to graduate with an associate degree

TENNERTON – At their graduation ceremonies, future Buckhannon-Upshur High School seniors will have the opportunity to take one walk across the stage but receive two key credentials: a high school diploma and an associate degree.  

On Tuesday, Upshur County Schools and Pierpont Community & Technical College announced a partnership called the Pierpont College Academy ‘One Walk, Two Degrees’ program. The ‘One Walk, Two Degrees’ program is a new initiative that will enable interested high school students to enroll in dual-credit courses and earn a General Studies associate degree – in addition to a high school diploma – when they graduate from Buckhannon-Upshur High School.

The signing of the MOU took place in the B-UHS auditorium Tuesday morning.

Discussions about implementing the program in Upshur County have been in the works since September 2022 – Monongalia County Schools rolled it out last month – but Tuesday, the two entities cemented the collaboration by signing a memorandum of understanding.

Dr. Joni Gray, transitional education specialist at Pierpont, said the chance to complete college-level courses and earn an associate degree is already offered in some other states, and West Virginia school superintendents wanted to make it a reality in the Mountain State.

“They came to our table at Pierpont, and they shared really what was important to them, what they value and what they dream for their counties, and as part of that vision, they emphasized the need for this opportunity for students in West Virginia, because it really has not been offered to our students,” Gray said.

Upshur County Schools Interim Superintendent Dr. Debra Harrison and Pierpont Community & Technical College Interim President Dr. Kathleen Nelson said they were elated to make the partnership official.  

“Since I came on board about four-and-a-half or five years ago, one of our goals has been to bring an associate degree program to the high school that our students could graduate with,” Harrison said. “I love the title – ‘One Walk, Two Degrees. When they walk across the stage at graduation, they will be given their diploma by me and their associate degree by the President of Pierpont Community.”

Through the program, students who wish to pursue a bachelor’s degree will have two fewer years of college education to pay for, which helps equalize the playing field, Harrison said.

“Not only does it help our students, but it also helps our families,” she said. “Education is so expensive. Those students will be able to graduate with two years of college under their belt at no expense to them. If you earn your associate degree here, then, because it’s transferable anywhere to state colleges, you basically have two years of college left.”

“Any student who is interested in post-graduate education, this affords them that opportunity regardless of socioeconomic level,” she added. “Students have doors open to them that would normally not be open to them without this program, and Pierpont is such a great partner.”

Nelson predicted the number of college-bound students will increase significantly, thanks to the ‘One Walk, Two Degrees’ program.

“Debra and I were just talking about the fact that the going-to-college rate, which is relatively low in West Virginia in general, is going to simply skyrocket with this kind of program because we will have students who are going to have their associate degrees, and [it’s important] to think about how that enriches not only the students but the families,” she said. “The families enrich the communities, and the communities enrich the state. It’s the best thing that we could imagine jointly for West Virginia students.”

Nelson added that partaking in Pierpont College Academy will also ease the transition to four-year colleges.

“They’re getting to take college-level courses and will have the chance to see what it’s like to be a college student in a more comfortable environment,” she said.

While some students might be college-bound, others who complete the program – those who may wish to earn a technical degree at Pierpont – will have a head start on their general studies requirements.

“You will have had all of your general education courses met – all of those requirements – so it’s really just opening the future up for the students in this district, which is just wonderful,” Nelson said.

Buckhannon-Upshur High School Principal Randy West said students will prep for the program their freshmen year but delve deeper into it starting their sophomore year. High school administrators are still finalizing the details involving staffing and scheduling courses, but he’s already received inquiries from interested parents, he said.

“Once we get all that kind of stuff ironed out, we’ll start putting kids in the classes and meeting their needs,” West said. “We’ve had some people call about dual-credit courses for younger students already, so there’s already some parent interest out there.”

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