Underserved no More

Northwest-Shoals President, Dr. Jeff Goodwin, left, and Reach University President, Joe E. Ross, signed an articulation agreement during a small ceremony on the Shoals campus last week.  

MUSCLE SHOALS - Reach University and Northwest-Shoals Community College last week announced a partnership to provide every NW-SCC graduate a transparent and fully-paid pathway to a bachelor’s degree and professional career through a program to overcome historic transfer, completion, and workforce alignment challenges. 

In a first-of-its-kind articulation agreement between an Alabama two-year college and Reach University, 100% of credits from nearly all available NW-SCC majors will transfer into Reach’s Liberal Studies Bachelor of Arts. Rather than a traditional college campus, Reach will utilize local K-12 employers as the university learning place through its accredited apprenticeship degree program. All degree seekers will work as an employee in a northwest Alabama school while completing their job-embedded B.A., offering exposure to the field of teaching and the chance to pursue a teacher credential following degree completion.

This announcement comes as the Alabama Community College System (ACCS) is “bucking the trend” of community college challenges across the country. As many two-year institutions witnessed pandemic-related enrollment declines, ACCS has experienced an “increase in enrollment by at least 5% each year since 2020.” This program aims to leverage strong enrollment growth to incentivize degree completion and ease transfer into an affordable on-the-job bachelor’s degree for a wide range of majors.  

“As Alabama’s first public junior college, Northwest-Shoals takes great pride in being an institution that bridges effective academic and technical career training with the needs of our local employers,” stated NW-SCC President, Dr. Jeff Goodwin. “Our partnership with Reach University will assist with degree completion, while aligning our graduates’ transfer opportunities with the labor needs of one of our largest regional employers. We expect this program to create a consistent pipeline of talent for our local schools.”  

The A.A. to B.A. Transfer Pathway is offered to all associates of arts and sciences graduates, as well as select applied science and occupational technology degree holders. The grad will fill a critical job (e.g., as a classroom aide or other classified employee) while pursuing a debt-free Liberal Studies degree.  Half of the learning towards the B.A. comes from on-the-job work.  The other half comes from rigorous online Oxford-style seminars taking place after work hours and led by Reach’s nationally-recognized teacher practitioner faculty.  In serving historically underrepresented populations, the program also offers extensive advising and support services throughout the degree experience.  

“When the Russellville City School District needed bilingual talent to support the changing demographics of our community, we utilized Reach’s apprenticeship degree to successfully recruit and train local educators.  The impact of this benefit was seen almost immediately,” said Dr. Heath Grimes, Superintendent, Russellville City Schools.  “I encourage every district to embrace this new take on education as a benefit to meet short and long-term talent needs.”   

In transitioning the workplace into the university learning place, the program provides the learner first-hand exposure into the field of teaching, while closely aligning the training with a district’s workforce needs.  

“This partnership leverages the individual strengths of a regional community college, an employer-centered university, and leading local employers to create unparalleled postsecondary and professional opportunities in a rural community,” said Joe E. Ross, President, Reach University. “The data is clear. An overwhelming majority of community college students want to complete a bachelor’s degree, they are hungry for hands-on exposure to new fields of work, and they are ready to enter the professional workforce.”

To be eligible for the program, A.A. holders must be employed at an approved K-12 school, and have access to an instructional work setting for approximately 15 hours a week. Degree seekers will be paid throughout the duration of their degree program, taking on zero student loan debt. After B.A. completion, the learner may matriculate into an alternative teacher certification program, but there is no obligation to do so.  

This program is open to all regional K-12 districts in northwest Alabama. To learn more, please visit www.reach.edu.