Sometimes, time off from work can generate the best business leads and ideas.
That’s what Chris Semonelli, a Middletown Town Council member and vice president of sales and marketing for Erez, USA, a technical textile fabric manufacturer in Newport, says about his vision of bringing more early-college programs to Rhode Island to help address the state’s so-called skills gap plaguing mid-level, and available, jobs.
It was during his family’s annual Maine camping trip one year ago when, while reading a local newspaper article about an early-college program there, he got it in his head that Rhode Island would greatly benefit from establishing a five-year, high school-to-associate degree program.
“There is a need out there right now for a student of a certain level of proficiency to fill a job that’s not a four-year [degree job],” Semonelli said recently. “The model exists today. [But] what they need is a direction to have a set course for an associate degree.”
Semonelli started shopping the idea around. He found wide interest among local educators and business leaders to develop a program in partnership with the Community College of Rhode Island in Warwick and Newport County high schools to offer students the chance to earn an associate degree through coursework started in high school and completed in one additional year post-graduation.
The idea would be for students to start taking college-level courses in their sophomore or senior year of high school.
Though several Rhode Island high schools allow students that option, tying it together with CCRI faculty and working toward an associate degree in a fifth year would be new.
“If you look at competitive benchmarking of other states and what they’re doing, it’s my opinion they are more competitive [than Rhode Island],” said Thomas Kowalczyk, a research transition coordinator with the United States Department of Homeland Security office of university programs in Providence. “It’s not a breakthrough idea. [It’s a] case of being bold for business.”