HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - This is a news release from William Carey University
William Carey University continues to invest in the Mississippi Youth ChalleNGe Academy at Camp Shelby Joint Forces Training Center.
The Academy's goal is to help at-risk teenagers and high school dropouts achieve their full potential in order to become productive members of society. University personnel have provided college-credit classes for the Academy since 1999, started by a collaboration between Dr. Tommy King, now the president of the university, and the late Brig. Gen. Dr. William Crowson, founding director of the Academy.
"The Academy was the first program in the U.S. to offer college credit," said Dr. King. "Now, most of them do."
Dr. King's interest in Youth ChalleNGe stemmed from his days in public education and from his friendship with Dr. Crowson. Their partnership resulted in the university offering college credit to cadets in the Academy who passed the General Educational Development, or GED, test.
Over time, the collaboration between the university and the Academy has strengthened. Now, WCU offers five college courses, or 15 credit hours, to qualifying cadets.
"The credit allows cadets going directly into the military to enter at a higher rank and for those Academy graduates who go on to college, it gives them a full semester of credit," said Dr. King.
Bill Curry, director of financial aid at WCU and coordinator of the college credit offerings for the Academy, said the benefits are much greater than just the college credit.
"We can convince these students they are worth something," he said. "We can give them a positive experience and encouragement."
Curry noted that many of the cadets in the Academy, who range between ages 16-18, are teenagers who have had issues but still have significant potential.
"We find that high ACT scores are normal and that these students tend to be highly intelligent," said Curry. "All Youth ChalleNGe cadets are volunteers who are looking for ways to better themselves."
The university offers classes in general psychology, English mythology, drug and alcohol addiction, personal finance and general biology, said Curry.
"We find that these cadets open up to our instructors and very much enjoy the classes," he said.
Brandon Dillon, associate director of admissions at WCU and instructor of one of the psychology courses, said the cadets are eager to learn and show great promise.
"I find them wanting to learn," he said. "It's a great opportunity for us to be motivational."
Taylorsville native Austin Cassell, 17, is one of the Academy graduates who benefited from WCU's partnership. Cassell earned 15 hours of college credit through WCU while at the Academy and then enrolled at WCU as a freshman. He has also joined the United States Army, where the college credit will allow him a fast track to promotion.
"I found the instructors helpful and willing to give us a constant reminder to better ourselves," he said. "I believe the opportunity to earn college credit taught me responsibility while also allowing me to move forward in my goals with the Army."
Cassell and two other Academy graduates are now enrolled as freshmen at WCU, said Curry.
"We've found that many of these cadets either join the military after they graduate the Academy or they enroll at Carey," said Curry. "They tend to become successful."
Dr. King said the college credit offerings have been a success for both the university and for the Academy.
"We've had a high of 50 students and have never fallen below 20 students for any class of the Academy, of which there are two annually, one beginning in January and the other beginning in July," he said.
Retired Col. Steven McCoy, current director of the Academy, echoed Dr. King's remarks and said the credit offerings have been a boost for the Academy in general and an additional challenge and opportunity for those cadets who qualify.
"It's worked extremely well for us for over a decade," he said. "The credit offerings give our cadets a better range of options if they're enlisting in the military, and if not, it offers them an early start on college when many of these cadets didn't believe college was a viable option for them."