New York State School Boards Association

Herkimer BOCES blurring line between career tech, college work

On Board Online • December 19, 2011

By Brian M. Butry
Communications Coordinator 

Rather than offering high school students a few disconnected college level classes, what if there was a career technology program that helped students obtain a college degree in emerging technology fields?

Well, Herkimer BOCES has done just that. In conjunction with Herkimer County Community College (HCCC), BOCES officials designed a new Information Technology Academy with the help of college and industry professionals.

BOCES and the college have established a catalog of courses that students can take in one of four career tracks and arranged these courses in a way that allows them to progress towards completing a two-year associate’s degree. 

Each of the career tracks combines the needs of business and industry, as well as the degree-track programming at the college, according to Mark Vivacqua, district superintendent.

The superintendent said that upon successful completion of their BOCES courses, students can earn up to 30 credits toward a college degree.  In effect, BOCES and HCCC have created “a two plus one program” for students.

So while they are taking the standard math, English and social studies courses required in high school, they are also pursuing a degree in website and e-business development, small business management, computer network technician, or computer support specialist degrees.

“When we can blur the line between high school and post-secondary, we are realizing our goal that every student leaves the BOCES college- and career-ready,” Vivacqua said. “The line here is nearly invisible.”

The BOCES began offering college articulations to students in 2001.  The articulations allowed students who chose to attend college to receive credits, requirement waivers, or preferred standing/eligibility at the institution with whom the articulation is held.

But classes in visual communications, renewable energy, computer networking and business information suffered from low enrollment. This was mostly due, officials said, to a “lack of continuity” for students after they left BOCES.

So in December 2010, BOCES staff met with engineers from New York Central Mutual Insurance Company.  With their help, Vivacqua and his colleagues refined the scope of the programs by defining the specific skills needed to be successful in an entry level program.  They aligned these skills with nationally recognized industry exams from Microsoft and the Computing Technology Industry Association.

Vivacqua says the efforts have paid off. “Enrollment in the first year of the program has more than doubled,” he noted.

Jim Piolla, director of secondary programs and distance learning for Herkimer BOCES, believes the program has created opportunities for students that would have otherwise been lost to them.

“I don’t know if there are any business departments left in the county to even offer these types of classes,” Piolla told On Board. “In many respects, if BOCES doesn’t do it, these kids won’t have these opportunities.

“It’s another example of the poorest of poor students in our state not having the opportunity to advance their education in a way that kids from more privileged areas do. And that will handicap them professionally and educationally.”

Piolla said more rural areas in upstate New York should look to their BOCES to help level the playing field. In fact, now that the Information Technology Academy program is up and running, Herkimer BOCES is hoping to expand the college-in-the-high-school concept into other career and technical education programs. The idea is to give students pursuing other careers “similar opportunities for such closely aligned college and career instruction.”

“We really do see this program as the only opportunity for these students to have some of the advantages that more wealthy areas have,” Piolla said. “Many of these students would, under any other circumstance, not have an opportunity to attend college.  This program makes it possible for them.”


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