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Helping students make the jump to college

4 min read

Career-Technical Education

This month we’re bringing you guest blog posts about blended and online learning. In this post, Tony Brannon and David Black with Murray State University in Kentucky discuss how blended learning can help bridge the gap between high school and college.

Career and technical education training programs, formerly referred to as vocational education, are receiving more interest from students at the secondary, postsecondary and professional levels. In an economy that rewards highly-skilled and specialized employees, it’s no wonder students are gravitating toward education programs that prepare them for the workforce.

Students who are most interested in CTE opportunities, however, are sometimes afraid of what comes next at the university level. Too many students leave high school unsure about their abilities to excel in postsecondary education.

One of our important initiatives at Murray State University is to ease students’ transition from high school to college by offering updated CTE resources, industry-backed certification and dual-credit courses. To that end, we created the Racer Academy of Agriculture. The program offers dual credit at the high school and postsecondary levels through courses in our Hutson School of Agriculture.

Bridging the gap

One of the reasons students feel like they can’t succeed in higher education is that they don’t see relevancy in what they’re learning, or they may be scared that they are unable to do the work. The benefit of CTE programs is that they gauge the interest of current and prospective students to give them the confidence they need after high school, whether they attend a university environment or a career. We’re bridging the gap to prevent and change these fears through many introductory courses and digital learning resources.

The Racer Academy of Agriculture and its dual credit program were originally developed with an initial enrollment of 25 high-school students in one class, but under a grant from the USDA, it has evolved into six different courses offered in high schools all across the Commonwealth. Several of the courses are delivered by an online learning platform called iCEV, the curriculum is designed for qualified high-school teachers to serve as instructors and facilitators for high-school students to earn college credit before graduating. The online platform is helping students enter their career with an open mind and gain a greater understanding of what their field of study requires and gives them the ability to visualize what they are learning as they increase their engagement, grades and retention levels. In addition to earning college credit, students gain confidence by completing college-level coursework. This program has helped high school agriculture programs recruit and retain an even greater number of outstanding students.

One really important part of our Racer Academy is the way instructors use technology to deliver instruction. We’ve found that students are engaging deeply with instructional content because it’s relevant to their interests and available both at school and at home. All of the vetted content is useful in supplementing traditional classroom instruction. Encouraging this deep level of engagement among students is important because it promotes good study habits that will serve them well in postsecondary education, where students need to take more ownership in their learning.


To date, the Racer Academy of Agriculture serves over 400 students in more than 70 high schools across Kentucky. Participating high-school students can earn up to 17 hours of agriculture college credits through Murray State before even graduating high school. By combining these credits with other dual credit courses or AP classes, some of our most successful students have entered college at the sophomore level.

The Racer Academy of Agriculture has been an overwhelming success so far. In the future, we’ll potentially offer students the opportunity to earn industry certifications in specific areas of agriculture and possibly even use their hours of college credit toward an associate’s degree. In all, it’s a concerted effort to help students transition from high school to college by exploring the subject areas that pique their interest.

Tony Brannon and David Black are the Dean of Hutson School of Agriculture and Racer Academy Coordinator, respectively, at Murray State University in Kentucky.

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