Area high school students in college classes has doubled in past five years

Students who take college courses while in high school are expected to increase dramatically in the next decade, education experts say.

Since 2008, the number of students who take Post Secondary Education Options already has doubled at Miami University’s regional campuses.

“We think that this trend will continue for the foreseeable future,” said Jan Toennisson, Miami University Middletown’s director of public affairs.

As the state attempts to increase the percentage of Ohioans who have at least an associate degree (36 percent), post secondary options area an area educators believe will transform education in the future.

Increasing the number of people with degrees is a matter of improving Ohio’s economy, Chancellor Jim Petro said earlier this year, as the state is losing out on billions of dollars because it lags 5 percent behind the national average for bachelor’s degree holders. Only 26 percent of adults statewide have a four-year degree.

Increasing the rate is one of the most important initiatives taken on by the Ohio Board of Regents because now and in the future, a high school diploma is just not sufficient in the workforce, Petro said.

“More and more jobs are going to require some post secondary education, whether it be a bachelor’s degree, an associate degree or a certificate that has value. You need something beyond your high school,” Petro said.

Miami University’s regional campuses had 195 high school students on their campuses in 2008. This fall, there are 422 currently enrolled.

PSEOs are one of several choices that students have for earning college credit while still enrolled in school. Students in grades 9 - 12 who have a minimum grade point average of 3.0 are eligible to apply for participation, according to Keith Millard, Hamilton City Schools’ director of Secondary Programs,

“Students must apply and be accepted by the college or university they wish to attend for their post-secondary course experience,” Millard said. “Currently, 20 Hamilton High students are attending Miami University-Hamilton pursuing post secondary options.”

Toennisson said students are given two post secondary options: The first allows a public, community or nonpublic high school student to choose, upon enrollment, college credit or both high school and college credit. In this case, the cost of the program is funded entirely by the student’s family.

The second option, one Toennisson says is taken by the vast majority of the school’s PSEO students, enables the student to receive both high school and college credit.

For public high school and community school students, there is no transfer of tuition between student and college. The high school’s state foundation will pay the college directly. If the student is enrolled in a nonpublic high school, the cost is subsidized by funds set aside by the Ohio General Assembly in each biennium and awarded on a first-come, first-served basis, Toennisson said.

“I’ve been participating in post secondary classes since my freshman year,” said Gabrielle Boltz, of Middletown. “You get a different atmosphere when you have the opportunity to take a course at a college versus taking it in high school. I feel that’s a great opportunity that we have.”

“It’s just a fantastic option that we have in Ohio that other states don’t have,” said Middletown High School guidance counselor Julie Barber. “Indiana does not have that. Texas, which is pretty progressive educationally, does not have that. It is a great augmentation to the advance placement classes that schools offer. It’s another choice.”

Monroe senior Felicia Shadwick says PSEO courses will also help lighten her course load in nursing.

“I plan on majoring in nursing. The first year for nursing students is a very heavy work load, so I knew taking English at MUM would lighten my work load as a freshman in college,” she said.

Monroe principal Bob Leahy said his three sons —Ben, Danny and Ryan — each took PSEO classes during their high school careers. As both a father and an administrator, Leahy said he looked at the post secondary option from both angles.

“We don’t have study halls here, therefore our kids can get a lot of credits (by taking PSEO classes) during their first three years of high school,” Leahy said. “For them to stay here and take their higher sciences and math, we have that. So why not let the kids go over to a post secondary option and let them get a taste of the expectations that college is all about?”

Leahy said Monroe has 50 students taking PSEO classes on area college campuses. He’s not surprised by the rise in high school students who are now taking post secondary classes. He says they’re seeing opportunities that weren’t available to high school students in the past.

“Technology has just taken off, and it’s given more and more colleges the chance to spread their wings,” he said. “You can get on a computer, pay your fee, get in, get your credits and graduate. … There’s more opportunity than ever before. There’s more scholarship opportunities and the money for those scholarships is often untapped.

Petro’s charge comes as the nation’s governors have been called to raise the number of college degree holders in their states to 60 percent within eight years.

“There’s nothing more important for the economy in the state of Ohio than getting its workforce ready for the challenges of the next century,” said Bruce Johnson, president of the Ohio Inter-University Council and a task force member.

Meagan Pant contributed to this story.

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