As state studies college credit plan, local student participation surges

As state officials study the effectiveness of College Credit Plus, the number of local high school students earning free college credit through the program continues to grow, with Sinclair Community College announcing record participation in 2018-19.

More than 6,700 high school students have enrolled this year in at least one College Credit Plus class with Sinclair, which partners with 135 high schools across 19 counties. The statewide CCP program aims to help more students earn degrees or post-secondary credentials by cutting the time and cost of completing college.

Sinclair officials said their CCP students, who are simultaneously earning both high school and college credit, save almost $6 million a year in college tuition and textbook costs. Ohio officials say statewide student savings last year were $148 million.

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“I like that it’s preparing me for college, definitely saving money in the long run for my parents, and it’s making me a better student,” said Molly Thompson, an Oakwood High School junior who has taken multiple Sinclair courses. “It will allow me to focus more on courses related to my major (once I graduate high school) by taking these general education courses now.”

The 4-year-old program is used in all types of districts, from Thompson’s Oakwood experience, to the 200 Dayton Public Schools students enrolled in College Credit Plus classes, according to Superintendent Elizabeth Lolli. In 2017-18, Montgomery County had the third-highest participation (4,007 students) despite being Ohio’s fifth most-populous county.

In the Mad River school district, CCP participation rose from 201 students in 2015-16 to 306 last year. Superintendent Chad Wyen said the number of credit hours earned by Mad River students doubled from 938 to 1,889.

Northmont schools saw its numbers double since the 2015-16 launch as well. There are 181 Northmont students participating this year, up from 80, and they’re projected to earn 1,266 credit hours, up from 545, according to Northmont High School counselor Beth Kessler.

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“What we’re really proud of at Northmont is that we worked hard to have our own teachers accredited,” Superintendent Tony Thomas said. “So our kids are still getting the high school experience in a high school building while getting college credit. I think that is a huge advantage.”

Students can take CCP classes at their high school, at a college or online. Melissa Tolle, chief school partnership officer at Sinclair, said about 22 percent of her college’s CCP participation is physically at Sinclair, 35 percent online and 43 percent at the participating high school.

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Tolle said those numbers have shifted as high schools, like Northmont, have gotten more teachers credentialed to teach college classes.

Since the beginning of College Credit Plus, K-12 school districts have had concerns about the program’s cost structure — which requires the public school, not the student, to pay an adjusted college tuition and textbook cost. Participating private school and homeschool students apply to the state for that funding.

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The current CCP cost floor is $41.64 per credit hour for courses taught at the high school by a credentialed high school teacher, and the ceiling is $166.55 per credit hour, for courses taught by college faculty on their campus.

Northmont’s Thomas said he thinks CCP is mostly serving students who would have gone to college anyway, and he’d like to see the funding system changed. Kettering school officials also raised cost issues after the district paid $75,270 last school year in CCP tuition (not counting textbook costs).

“While College Credit Plus is a huge benefit for students and their families, I do not believe that Ohio taxpayers fully understood when CCP was introduced that they would be picking up the tab,” Kettering Superintendent Scott Inskeep said.

Thomas said he’s eager to see data from the upcoming state review of CCP. A provision of Senate Bill 216 required that the Ohio Department of Education produce a report by Nov. 2 on the cost-effectiveness for students and schools, including whether students are truly saving money and completing college degrees faster.

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Tolle said the CCP requirement that students must be college-ready or “remediation-free” to participate has held down involvement from some high-poverty, low-test-score schools. So Sinclair has added a tutoring pilot program with two high schools and test prep to help students pass the Accuplacer exam to get into CCP.

Those CCP students who are participating are succeeding at higher rates than Sinclair’s regular incoming freshmen, with a 90 percent credit completion rate, and 73 percent of CCP students earning GPAs of 3.0 or better, according to Tolle. Those numbers are slightly lower than most other Ohio community colleges, but Sinclair’s participation rate is among the highest.

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Tolle said Sinclair has had to deal with changes to state rules on CCP each year. This year, new rules govern the types of classes new CCP students must start with. At Sinclair, the most popular CCP courses are general education classes that students will need at most colleges — English 1 and 2, introductory math courses plus social science classes like psychology, sociology and political science.

Northmont offers some of those CCP courses at its high school, as well as Spanish, anatomy/physiology and an electrical circuits class. Mad River adds CCP government and history courses. Kettering has music, art, three levels of Calculus through Wright State and an environmental science course through Cincinnati State.

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But at Mad River and Kettering, most on-site College Credit Plus offerings are through the schools’ career tech centers, often taught by Sinclair faculty at the high school. Courses range from construction to robotics to business classes.

Because CCP is a state program, most entry-level credits earned via Ohio public colleges are guaranteed to transfer to any other Ohio public college. But those students planning to attend a private or out-of-state college should check whether those schools will accept the transfer credits.

“I think CCP is a great opportunity for students to be able to begin their college experience,” said Huber Heights Superintendent Sue Gunnell, whose district has 240 CCP students and only a 4 percent withdrawal rate. “Being in an environment where they’re already comfortable at Wayne High School also allows them to continue to participate in many other activities here at Wayne.”Thompson takes regular Oakwood High School classes for periods 1-3 each day, then moves on to Sinclair CCP classes (French, psychology and English) on Tuesdays and Thursdays. She said she misses out on some school activities, but can participate in others, saying the trade-off is worth it overall.

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She said the CCP classwork isn’t much more difficult than her high school work, but requires more independence and organization with less teacher contact. She plans to go to an in-state college and hopes to be a college sophomore or junior by the time she graduates from high school.

“It’s very flexible … you can take only one class, or you can take your full day at Sinclair,” Thompson said. “Some people really care about high school and some don’t. For me, this is great because it’s half and half.”

Getting a jump

Number of students who enrolled in at least one College Credit Plus class through Sinclair Community College:

2015-16 — 3,421

2016-17 — 4,303

2017-18 — 5,303

2018-19 — 6,732

Source: Sinclair CC

Statewide program

Total number of students enrolled in College Credit Plus statewide. 2018-19 numbers not yet available.

2015-16 — 54,053

2016-17 — 68,365

2017-18 — 71,485

Source: Ohio Department of Higher Education

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