Schools partner to offer new associate degree pathway in agriculture

Seymour High School is partnering with Ivy Tech Community College to offer an educational pathway like no other available in the state.

Beginning in the fall, current high school students and residents from Seymour and other communities will be able to turn a technical certificate into an associate degree in agriculture.

“I don’t believe that anybody in the state has this program at this time,” Principal Greg Prange said.

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The initiative also is a way for the school corporation to open up its ag-science and research facility more to the public.

The degree program will consist of four college agriculture courses (Introduction to Agriculture, Introduction to Crop Production, Soil Science and Agriculture Sales) offered over two school years at Seymour’s Ag-Science and Research Farm located in the Freeman Field Industrial Park and one online class (Student Success in Technology.)

In the first year, classes will meet from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Mondays. The third and fourth classes would be offered on Wednesday nights beginning in the fall of 2021.

Because the classes are in the evening, they will be open to students in other communities, Prange said.

The courses are dual credit, so students can earn both high school and college credits at the same time.

A total of 31 credit hours is required to complete the degree program. Of those credits, 18 are for the one-year technical certificate and come at no cost to the student or the school district.

SHS already partners with Ivy Tech to offer a welding program for high school students. Two students recently earned technical certificates in welding and now are eligible for the new associate program.

Stephen Combs, chancellor for Ivy Tech’s Columbus campus, said the associate degree pathway evolved from the welding program.

“That’s kind of the impetus for this,” he said. “We’re doing this great program and wanted to do more.”

The associate degree program is open to both current students and graduates as far as three to five years out who accumulated dual credit while in high school or took some college classes but never earned a degree.

“We’ve already come up with a list of students who have graduated that might be good targets and have an interest in this program,” Prange said. “Our instructors are keeping an eye on our current students who might benefit from this, as well.”

Seymour offers many Ivy Tech dual credit courses in a variety of areas.

“Many of your students are also our students, and I think that’s something the community needs to understand,” Combs said.

The total tuition cost for the program is $2,264.15. SHS plans to apply for state career and technology education funding to pay its students’ costs.

Prange said the program is providing an opportunity for students to pursue postsecondary education in a nontraditional way.

“We want to expand our already very successful partnership with Ivy Tech,” he said. “Utilizing our ag-science building allows us to be good community partners, as well.”

Jeanna Eppley, ag teacher and FFA adviser at SHS, said the degree program is a good incentive for students wanting to get into the workforce after graduation.

“Having the opportunity to take these courses during high school years is another advantage to motivate students who want to enter the workforce as soon as possible after graduation,” she said.

She is excited to see what the future brings.

“This is a great opportunity to bring another exciting advantage to students at Seymour High School and throughout the area,” she said. “I am excited to see how this program will develop and what opportunities are on the horizon for our students.”

Mark Schneider, director of K-14 initiatives at Ivy Tech, said Seymour is lucky to have a world-class agriculture facility and program.

“When we were looking at this, we were thinking, ‘What could we do to combine all of that and provide something for the community?’” he said. “There are a lot of schools that have a lot of general education dual credit but not really any ag or vice versa. They have a lot of ag and no gen-ed.”

But Seymour has it all, he said.

Matt John, agriculture program chairman for Ivy Tech, agreed.

“I work with almost 50 different schools with dual credit in the southern half of the state, and I see a lot of really nice programs, a lot of really progressive programs, but you all have put together all the pieces,” he said. “You’ve got great teachers, and the facility is awesome.”

Local employers also will benefit from the partnership.

“A lot of them have said our associate degree in agriculture is an invaluable credential for those kids they are trying to employ when they come out of school,” John said. “They don’t necessarily need them to get a bachelor’s degree, although we do have that opportunity locally, as well, too.”