Students can earn more than diploma in high school

J.D. RottweilerBy J.D. Rottweiler, Ph.D.

Buena High School is the home of the first student licensed to fly small unmanned aircraft after participating in a training program coordinated by the Cochise Joint Technology District (CTED) and Cochise College. Three additional students at Benson High School will take the FAA Part 107 license exam next month.

The four are among the first participants in a 16-credit program at Buena, Bisbee and Benson that has them flying small unmanned aircraft from the very first day of class. The four-course program is light on lecture and heavy on lab. It introduces students to unmanned systems, prepares them for licensing, teaches video and photography skills, and pairs them with a community entity to carry out a real-world video/photo project using a UAS. The skills obtained lend themselves to entrepreneurship and can be applied in marketing, real estate, construction, agriculture, and law enforcement, to name a few. The college expects 37 new students to participate in the next cohort and predicts further growth as additional schools are added.

The college’s outreach division helps coordinate the UAS training and other programs that fill needs and provide opportunities at high schools and in rural areas throughout the county. The division works to connect rural communities with resources available at the college, with a focus on tailoring offerings around the specific interests and needs in each high school. In addition to overseeing the Fort Huachuca, Benson and Willcox centers, the assistant dean of outreach handles dual enrollment programs across the county. Dual enrollment instruction must meet the same requirement as curriculum offered on campus. In the majority of communities, students cannot simply walk to a college campus, so partnerships with CTED and coordination of offerings in the schools is necessary. The college partnership with CTED is a win-win, as students receive tuition assistance and pay only a small amount out of pocket for opportunities that can get them into the workforce faster.

Probably the most successful high school program in terms of enrollment and success rate is certified nursing assistant (CNA). The program started at St. David High School, then spread to Benson. It really took off after it became part of CTED, and now it is offered in nine Cochise County high schools. Instruction is live streamed to eight of those schools four mornings per week by a single Cochise College faculty member. Students participate in labs and clinicals outside of high school hours and earn five credits for one class in one semester.

Due to the level of commitment students must make in order to prepare for CNA licensure while still in high school, CTED and the college recently established an alternative healthcare training program. The home health aid course prepares students to assist homebound individuals with daily activities. That course is streamed to Benson, Bisbee, St. David, Tombstone, Valley Union and Willcox (Buena has its own faculty member), and students earn six college credits over two semesters. In addition, students at Benson and St. David can explore psychology and social services by enrolling in the Mental Social Health Services program offered by Cochise and CTED.

Other offerings at rural high schools include agriculture courses at Valley Union and Douglas; business, early childhood education, culinary arts, drafting, fire science and psychology at Douglas; building construction technology at Willcox; and networking in Benson, where students can earn a “stackable” credential that prepares them for another level of training. In some cases, students have the opportunity to complete credentials that prepare them to earn salaries in excess of minimum wage, and that is a good way to leave high school.

J.D. Rottweiler, Ph.D., is president of Cochise College. Contact him at