Officials with the Neosho R-5 School District and Crowder College joined together Thursday morning to announce a new partnership between the two schools, offering students the opportunity to earn their associate degree while still in high school.

Beginning in the summer semester of 2014, Neosho High School students who have completed their sophomore year will have the chance to begin their work toward an associate of arts degree, with the chance to earn that degree at the same time they receive their high school diploma.

In addition, students will be able to take part in the dual credit and dual enrollment at a reduced rate of $60 per credit hour, an $18 reduction from the regular per credit hour fee for in-district students.

Melissa Smith, Crowder’s dual credit coordinator, said students in the program will also be loaned the needed textbooks, with the exception of materials that cannot be used twice, such as workbooks.

“The great thing is that we waive all the fees so there’s no online fees, no facility use fees, or anything like that that’s typical,” Smith said. “And then we loan textbooks to the students whether they’re dual credit or dual enrolled.”

Smith said she will serve as the adviser to the dual enrolled students, helping to guide them through the two-year degree plan.

Neosho Superintendent Dan Decker said the new partnership will assist the school district in helping students to reach their full potential.

“It’s something that’s going to be a wonderful opportunity for the students of Neosho as we look for ways to be on the cutting edge and provide the best quality of education we can for our students,” Decker said.

Decker referred to Crowder officials as “visionaries” and said planning for the partnership began in the spring.

Neosho High School Principal Darren Cook said there is already interest among students and parents in the program.

He said the possibility of such a program was introduced to students in an August meeting, which drew around 50 students. He said the high school has also been receiving calls from parents ready to get their children signed up for the program.

“The one thing that I’m most proud about Neosho is that we really try to focus on what’s best for kids,” Cook said. “And with Crowder coming in and helping us with that, we’re now able to take it one step further to continue our quest in doing what’s best for our students at Neosho.”

School Board member Jonathan Russell spoke in his campaign last spring of offering students the opportunity to earn their associate degree with their high school diploma.
Five months after being elected to his position, Russell was on hand at Thursday’s announcement. He said while it was a goal he felt strongly about, he did not expect it to become a reality so quickly.

“I am very excited at the pace that this has moved along,” Russell said. “I believed it was more of a long-term goal but with Mr. Decker on board, it has moved much quicker. I’m very glad that we are able to offer this opportunity to our students.”

Neosho High School students aren’t the only area teenagers to be included in Crowder’s dual credit program.

Smith said a similar program is also being offered at Carl Junction, Aurora and Carthage.
Dr. Glenn Coltharp, Crowder’s vice president of academic affairs, said after discussions with Decker he believes the dual credit program is just the start of several other partnerships to come.

“We have a lot of ideas and our students benefit from all those opportunities,” Coltharp said. “We’re very proud to be here, looking forward to the opportunity that we’re providing to students.”

Crowder’s Interim President Dr. Kent Farnsworth said providing students opportunities such as the dual credit program is helpful in addressing some of the challenges currently facing post-secondary education.

Farnsworth noted the cost of tuition, the increasing amount of student loan debt, and the time it takes to earn a degree.

“This kind of opportunity that starts students as soon as they’re ready to begin to work on their college level work and then moves them forward at a faster pace helps us address all of those issues,” Farnsworth said.