Weighing the benefits
Educators discuss pros, cons of College Credit Plus
A new state program is giving Ohio middle and high school students the opportunity to take free college classes, though some local educators have raised concerns about the impact it’s having on local school district budgets.
History of program
College Credit Plus, now in its second year and administered by the Ohio Department of Education, replaced the Post Secondary Enrollment Options Program and has seen the number of students participating increase significantly. The program allows students to earn up to four years of college credit before graduating high school.
Unlike the previous program, College Credit Plus allows students in seventh and eighth grades to participate, in addition to high school students. The goal of the program is to reduce the time and costs for students attending college, and the costs of the classes and textbooks are covered by the local school districts. The courses count as dual credit for both high school and college.
Robert Pleasant, who serves as the College Credit Plus coordinator for Ohio University Southern, said it is a great benefit to parents and students.
“They get dual credit and are able to explore content for college courses that they’re interested in,” he said.
He said the early start allows the students to get a sense of prospective fields of study before fully enrolling in a college.
“For a lot of students, that’s important,” Pleasant said.
He said OUS has seen more high and middle school students enroll as a result of the change in the program, with 177 students taking part in the spring semester.
“I think it says a lot that our numbers have increased dramatically,” Pleasant said.
In addition to expanding to include middle school students, he said the program has opened options and that students can now take any class they meet the requisites for.
“In the past, there were restrictions on what students take,” he said.
Pleasant said the program allows students to get a head start on their post-high school education.
“We’ve had students that have graduated high school who have two years of college credit,” he said.
He said that high school and middle school students attending OUS have done well so far, and that the university coordinates with counselors at the students’ schools to aid them.
Wendy Casterline, who serves as the state program administrator for College Credit Plus, said the program substantially reduces the costs of college for Ohio students.
“Tuition is free and it’s the high school’s responsibility to pay for the textbooks,” she said. “There’s no cost to the families.”
Casterline said the program allows students to take college courses online, on a college campus or through professors who visit the high and middle schools.
“It exposes them to a college curriculum while in high school,” she said.
While the program has been effective in reducing the expenses of college, there are those who question its premise and method of funding.
Chad Belville, the principal of Fairland High School in Rome Township, said the idea of “free” college is misleading.
“I don’t think most people are aware that they’re being asked to pay for someone else’s college,” he said.
Belville pointed out that the schools are asked to pay for the textbooks, which he said can be expensive, and that the districts have to pick up the tuition costs.
Loretta Wirzfield, the treasurer for the Fairland School District, said the schools lose funding when the students are not at the high or middle schools.
“Our attendance is done by hours, not days,” she said. “So any hours they’re at the college, we lose funding on those hours.”
Wirzfield said College Credit Plus is costing the district more than the Post Secondary Enrollment Options Program, as more students are participating, and the program has been expanded to begin at the seventh grade level.
“There’s no extra funding given, and it comes out of our operating money,” she said.
She said since the program is new, she would not know the exact costs of the tuition expenses until figures on foundation payments are available in September 2017.
South Point Superintendent Mark Christian said $5,900 is allocated by the state for each student, and the district receives a percentage of that based on their state share. The hours the students are at the colleges, rather than the middle or high schools, cost the district money, he said.
“If we lose a kid, we lose funding and could lose teachers, theoretically,” Christian said.
Casterline said the funding for the program is deducted from the district’s foundation payment.
“There’s money set aside for each student enrolled in public schools,” she said. “The money follows the student.”
Pleasant said the major difference in the program is that the state now sets what the highs and lows can be, with a floor of $40 for credits and a ceiling of $160. Factors such as a professor teaching the course at the public school can reduce costs, he said.
Christian said the program has its benefits. In addition to reducing costs, it can help students to get a significant head start on college. He said that a student who had enough credit to graduate by their junior year of high school could take an entire year of college credits for their senior year at no cost.
“It benefits them to stay at the high school for the year,” he said.
While he has issues with the funding, he said, overall, the program was a positive.
“The more kids do it, the less we get,” Christian said. “But it’s a good thing for kids. I’m not opposed, but we have to take that into consideration.”
Expansion to middle school
Belville also questioned the expansion of the program to include middle school students, and asked whether it was appropriate for a student in seventh grade, where they can be as young as 12, to be taking courses at a university.
Casterline said it depends on the student.
“Not every student is going to be ready,” she said. “The colleges determine if the students are ready, and it has to follow the SATs.”
Christian said the impact on middle school students isn’t measurable yet, as few are participating in the program, which he said “is in its infancy.”
Pleasant said he’s had no reports of younger students struggling in classes, and pointed out that the students have to pass several requirements to make sure they’re ready for the courses.
“They use the SAT, ACT and the Compass tests,” he said. “And the students have to be remediation-free in math and reading. Once that happens, they apply and then they attend an orientation, where the faculty comes in and share information on courses and instructions on technology used, and then the students register for classes. ”
Pleasant said, so far, the program has been working well, but, being in only its second year, there are always things that can be improved.
“It’s still a cost to the districts,” he said. “But I think the Department of Education is trying to address that. As a new program, there are bound to be changes.”