Free college credit program has risks to go with rewards


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 have earned adjunct professor status. Classes also can be taken online, if the college offers that option.

When: CCP takes effect for the 2015-16 school year. Students must declare their intention to participate by April 1.

Cost: Free to high school students who enroll in an Ohio public college or university.

Sources: Ohio Department of Education, Ohio Board of Regents

April 1 is the deadline for Ohio students to register for the state’s new College Credit Plus program, which allows high schoolers, and even some middle schoolers, to pursue college credit for free.

But local schools and colleges — sprinting to get CCP ready for next fall — have spent the past few weeks informing students that while the program could be very valuable, it also comes with risks.

Cathy Davis, director of undergraduate admissions at Wright State, told more than 300 Kettering students and parents last week that students need to make sure they are ready for college-level work if they want to participate.

“We’re trying to make sure students understand that they are starting their college transcript (via CCP), and that transcript stays with them,” Davis said. “Their academic performance (now) can affect their ability to be admitted (to college full time), and to qualify for financial aid.”

That clarity is important because thousands of parents have been attracted by the major advantage of the program — saving money on an increasingly expensive college degree — but have not heard the details of a system that the schools themselves are just now hammering out.

How it works, who can try

Students currently in grades 6-11 who want to participate in College Credit Plus next school year must submit a letter of intent by April 1. Public school students give the form to their school, while private school or homeschool students send it to the Ohio Department of Education. And with many schools on spring break the week of April 1, late March is a safer deadline.

Students can back out of CCP with no penalty after turning in that letter, but the letter starts a process.

Students who haven’t already done so are encouraged to talk to a school counselor about whether the program is right for them, and what courses they might take. Then they must apply to the Ohio college they want to work with — many have a May application deadline — and must earn admission to that college. All Ohio public colleges must participate, and Ohio private colleges can opt-in if they wish.

Liz Jensen, career tech education coordinator at Fairmont High School, said if a student decides to go to an out-of-state university after high school graduation, they should check whether the school will accept CCP credits.

Steve Gratz, executive director of the Ohio Department of Education, called the school counseling step “the most critical part of all of this.”

“College Credit Plus isn’t for every student,” Gratz said, referring not just to struggling students. “Some students want to go to a private university or maybe an Ivy League school, and Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate classes are probably going to be the best route for them. Those are the type of conversations that students and families need to have with school counselors.”

Gratz said he recently met with several school superintendents about CCP, and heard that middle school parents were among the most interested in the process. He cautioned that very few sixth- or seventh-graders would be college-ready, based on the courses they’ve taken.

Schools’ concerns

One major draw of CCP is the ability to earn credit for courses taken on the high school campus. But some schools are unsure how that will work.

Springfield City Schools will have its parent information night March 23 at the high school, and superintendent David Estrop said he wants to make families aware of AP and IB classes, in addition to College Credit Plus. He said depending on the interest level he hears at the parent meeting, it’s possible Springfield wouldn’t offer many CCP classes at the high school next fall.

“We’re trying to show students all the options available at Springfield High, so they and their parents can make good choices,” Estrop said. “It’s worth investing a night. Come and find out if it’s right for you.”

That’s what Karen Nieport was trying to do at Fairmont’s information night last week, asking questions about classes that her son Ray, currently a sophomore, could take next year.

“He’s already taking a lot of honors classes, and if we can get credit and reduce our college costs, that’s a good thing,” she said.

But she said the school’s handout of courses for college credit was confusing, as it had more than 50 “career tech” courses listed on one side, but only four to eight “dual enrollment” classes listed separately on the other side.

Lakota Local Schools curriculum director Fran Morrison said her district hasn’t assembled a list of courses for next year yet, calling the district “a little behind in that process.”

She said students need to figure out their college goals to see which CCP courses make sense. One student headed to Purdue for engineering and another aiming for a liberal arts degree at a small college may have very different requirements. Students also must be aware that if they fail a CCP class or drop it too late, the cost reverts to the family instead of the school.

“It’s great to get free college credit,” Morrison said. “But how does it help you? … That’s why the most understated component is how much counseling goes in to it.”

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