Pathways expand for early college credit


What: Eligible students can take college-level courses to earn high school and college credit simultaneously.

Who: Ohio students in grades 7-12 who apply to a participating Ohio college and are accepted.

Where: All Ohio public school districts and public colleges must participate, and private schools and colleges can opt-in. Courses can be taught at the college by college professors, or at the high school by teachers who earn adjunct professor status. Classes can also be taken online, if the college offers them that way.

When: CCP takes effect for the 2015-16 school year. School districts must offer information sessions explaining the program by March 1, and students must declare their intention to participate by April 1.

Why: Ohio officials want more college graduates, and they say this program — which replaces existing PSEO and dual enrollment systems — will give more students inexpensive access to college.

Cost: There is no cost to students if they are enrolled in an Ohio public college or university. The high school and the college split the cost, which can range from $40 to $160 per credit hour, well below standard college costs. Private colleges that choose to participate will negotiate a cost within the $40 to $160 window, and may charge the student some portion of that amount.

Sources: Ohio Department of Education, Ohio Board of Regents

A week after President Barack Obama called for access to free community college nationwide, state officials are trying to draw attention to an already-available Ohio program that lets high school students earn college credit for free.

Both initiatives are aimed at giving more students access to college at a time when rising tuition closes doors to some families, or forces students to prop those doors open via heavy debt loads.

G. Michael Pratt, associate provost and dean of Miami University Regionals, said Obama’s proposal for free community college is “highly speculative” at this time. He said there remains a lot of unknowns about the program and whether it will move forward.

“We’d be concerned opening up a program like this might just shift existing students from their first two years at regionals or four-year colleges to a community college,” Pratt said.

Pratt said he’s also concerned the plan for free community college could impact students on federal pell grants. But Pratt said one positive from the plan could be more students earning associate degrees and wanting to stay in school to complete a bachelor’s degree.

“It could be beneficial in the long run,” Pratt said.

But while the president’s proposal is in its infancy — with no guarantee it will survive a legislative debate — Ohio’s College Credit Plus program became law in June, and has a fast-approaching April 1 deadline for students to opt-in for next fall’s classes.

“Under College Credit Plus, the state will pay for public high school students’ college as long as they’re eligible,” said Lauren McGarity, director of special projects for the Ohio Board of Regents. “One of the best arguments for students and parents is, the more college courses you take while in high school (under CCP), the more dollars you’ll save.”

Ohio public school districts and public colleges are required by law to offer College Credit Plus starting this fall, and private high schools and colleges can choose to opt-in, according to the Ohio Department of Education. The private school model may require the student to shoulder some cost, but significantly less than they would on a traditional college path.

Dirk Allen, director of admissions at Badin High School, said the Catholic high school in Hamilton has a positive view of the College Credit Plus program but still needs to get more information on how it will work.

“We hope to be involved but we still have to get a lot more information,” Allen said.

College Credit Plus will replace the state’s existing early credit programs — the Post Secondary Enrollment Option (PSEO), where students travel to a college to take classes, and dual-enrollment alternatives, where students take classes for college credit at their high school, online, or under some other local arrangement.

DeAnn Hurtado, associate dean of the Sinclair Community College Courseview Campus in Mason, said as a parent of two college students herself, both of whom earned early credits in high school, she knows the importance and cost savings that can come from getting a head start on college.

“It’s nice to avoid some of the costs of the first year,” Hurtado said.

Hurtado said the goal of College Credit Plus is to create a structured way for families and students to easily access and understand the college-credit opportunities available to them.

“The existing programs are not very well publicized and easy to understand for families,” Hurtado said. “This simplifies the system for people to take advantage of.”

CCP will offer the same flexibility of location, but with more standardized rules than the current system, which McGarity said could “make you pull your hair out.”

But while CCP will offer more availability everywhere, it comes with one important, tougher requirement. It is a true dual-enrollment program that requires the student to apply to, and be accepted by an Ohio college in order to simultaneously earn high school and college credit. Students can apply to a college in any grade from 7-12.

That’s one piece that has local high schools and colleges sweating, because college admission standards for CCP students, many of whom may be halfway through high school, are still being worked on.

University of Dayton officials declined to comment for this story, saying the admissions department was still studying the matter.

“It’s really important to get information out to the students, and get everyone working together, because this is a really tight deadline for fall 2015,” said Thomas Sudkamp, Wright State’s vice president for curriculum and instruction. Sudkamp said people are in “panic mode,” adding that setting up the admission standards is the biggest current challenge.

Marianne Cotugno, faculty director at Miami University Middletown, said it’s her understanding that CCP students would have to reapply to attend the university full time after graduating high school.

“We’ve long been involved with offering college credit,” Cotugno said. “We have good existing relationships with districts.”

Cotugno said this past fall there were 483 students completing PSEO at the regional campuses, and another 86 in dual-enrollment courses at Warren County Career Services and in Centerville.

Cotugno said the university already practices many of the requirements of College Credit Plus, including classroom observations and assigning advisers to the high school students.

Keith Millard, assistant superintendent of instruction for Hamilton City Schools, said each year there are between 125 and 150 students in the district gaining college credit through advanced placement classes and dual credit and post secondary enrollment options with Miami University Hamilton and Clark State Community College.

“It helps families and Ohio needs more citizens in the state earning college degrees,” Millard said.

Under the new College Credit Plus umbrella, “districts will be absorbing more costs,” Millard said. Previously students paid a determined amount per credit hour for dual enrollment, and districts paid the cost for post secondary. Now districts will cover both costs.

But tuition costs will be negotiated between the college and public school district, with an established a floor of $40 and ceiling of $160 per credit hour.

The student perspective

While the details of the program are changing, Ohio high school students have been earning college credit for years.

Fairfield High School senior Brenden O’Brien said he’s currently earning college and high school credit for the English course he’s taking. His college credit is through Cincinnati State.

“It’s challenging but it’s fun challenging,” O’Brien said. “I don’t mind working that much harder in high school to make it easier next year.”

O’Brien said he was attracted to the dual-credit course after finding out from his high school teacher it would be more writing focused than reading.

“I enjoy writing; I can show what’s creative, what’s on my mind,” O’Brien said.

The 18-year-old Fairfield resident said he plans to attend college in the fall to study engineering. He’s gotten a couple letters of acceptance but he’s waiting on a couple more before deciding.

Hurtado said colleges and universities will be sending course catalogs to students in February. She said the courses are typically in general education areas such as English, psychology, mathematics and increasingly in engineering and business.

“If you take these classes in high school, you’re better prepared in college to take the next-level class,” Hurtado said.

About the Author