PRINCETON, WV (WVNS) – An exciting new program could help future teachers in West Virginia graduate from college debt-free.

West Virginia state superintendent Clayton Burch was at Mercer County Technical Education Center today as he and other educators announced the debut of West Virginia’s “Grow Your Own” program.

The new program aims to help students who want to become teachers get a leg up on their college coursework by making college-level education courses available to high school students.

Superintendent Burch said the program gives students in West Virginia a leg up in the job market, and also allows them to come back and help their home communities.

“So in high school, you can basically end with 30 hours of college credit that you take with you. So you’ve got your first year under your belt. So that’s a huge cost saver cause we’re going to cover the cost of those dual credit courses,” said Burch. “Then you go off and you finish your course work at the college. And then in the fourth year, you actually come back and they’re going to spend a year-long paid residency in their community.”

One of those Mercer County high schoolers with dreams of becoming a teacher is ninth-grader Aleya Goodman. Aleya wants to be a preschool teacher, and she said not having to go into debt, combined with the ability to get her degree and start working faster, are real selling points for her.

“It will be easier and it will be faster. And I’ve wanted to be a teacher for a while,” said Goodman. “I’ve always been stuck between that or nursing for a while, and I think I’ve made my decision.”

Superintendent Burch said he hopes the grow your own program helps combat the ongoing teacher shortage both here in West Virginia and also across the nation. He also says almost all of the students who choose the Grow Your Own program will receive full-time job offers immediately after college due to the number of open teaching positions in West Virginia public schools.

“1200 [open positions] this year and we anticipate that will actually increase this year,” Burch told 59News. “In 2015 there were 600 vacancies and in a seven-year period, it doubled. So we don’t see this being fixed any time soon.”

So far, 28 counties have signed up to implement the Grow your own program, and nine colleges in the state have already agreed to accept the dual credit hours.