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Getting a Jump Start On College Classes

Ohio Valley Students Earning College Credits in High School

Wheeling Park High School guidance counselor Jennifer Kucera-Short, who chairs the curriculum department, reviews Advanced Placement options with student Sidney Gebhardt. Photos Provided

WHEELING — High school students across the Ohio Valley are able to get a big jump start on their post-secondary educational careers, thanks to college credits they are able to earn while still enrolled in high school.

One of the most attractive incentives of participating in programs like Ohio’s College Credit Plus program or Advanced Placement courses in West Virginia public high schools–aside from the fact that it helps put them ahead of the game in college academics — is that it saves students and their families a significant amount of money on college tuition.

In Ohio, it’s an opportunity to earn college credits for free.

Formerly known as “duel enrollment,” programs have been in place for years to offer eligible students an opportunity to earn college credits while still in high school. Until about five years ago, only eligible juniors and seniors in high school were able to take advantage of this program. With the implementation of College Credit Plus (also commonly known as CCP or CC+ classes), now Ohio students can begin earning college credits as early as the seventh grade.

That’s not to say very many seventh-grade students — or even a lot of upperclassmen in high school, for that matter — are ready to tackle college-level courses. But for those who are prepared, the CCP classes can be worth taking on the challenge.

“Students still want to be part of high school,” said Christina Sirbaugh, curriculum director at St. Clairsville High School, noting that enrollment in CCP classes allows a student to participate in extracurricular activities like any other high school student.

The credits for these classes meet requirements for both high school and college, so students taking Intermediate College Algebra, for example, will earn college credit and fulfill the math requirement in high school — all at the same time by passing one class.

Most of the local public high schools in Ohio offer similar avenues to participate in CCP courses through area institutions of higher learning. In most cases, the CCP classes are part of core curriculum that all majors require, and credits earned transfer to any college a student selects after graduating high school.

In St. Clairsville, students in the College Credit Plus program are offered courses through Ohio University Eastern, Belmont College and the University of Akron. For those taking courses at Belmont College, students actually travel to that campus for those classes. For many CCP classes at Ohio University Eastern, students also attend there if they can drive. A number of classes also are taught remotely through live video conferencing directly from the class.

“We have a lot of the programming here on our campus,” Sirbaugh said about St. C.’s college course offerings. “A lot of our CCP students go on their own to Belmont College or to OUE, or they use our Distance Learning Lab here.”

For classes available through the University of Akron, some courses are taught via Distance Learning, while many times, teachers at St. Clairsville High School are specifically credentialed through the University of Akron to teach those courses while on the high school campus.

Jay Morris, College Credit Plus coordinator at Ohio University Eastern, said every local high school in the area is offered CCP courses at Eastern, and students from eight different local high schools participate in video conferenced classes at OUE, including Bridgeport, Barnesville, Meadowbrook, St. Clairsville, Buckeye Trail, River, Beallsville and Shenandoah high schools.

“There is a cost savings for students,” Morris said. “The school districts pay for tuition and buy the student’s textbooks, as well.”

More than 150 high school students are presently enrolled in College Credit Plus courses offered at OUE.

The first 15 credit hours taken through the CCP courses at OUE are guaranteed to transfer to any public university or community college in Ohio, Morris noted, adding that last year, eight students earned an associate’s degree (successfully completing at least 60 credit hours) in the CCP program at Eastern.

Those available courses may be taken at the Eastern campus, at high schools by credentialed high school teachers, through videoconferencing or online.

Morris indicated that since a lot of kids go into college undecided about their major, the CCP program offers them an advantage of taking college courses in high school and deciding early in the process whether or not they want to continue toward certain academic paths once they get their feet wet. It also exposes them to more rigorous academic coursework and an elevated level of expectations for academic performance, which can often take some new college students by surprise.

There are some pitfalls to the College Credit Plus program, school officials noted.

“A lot of times, parents hear ‘free college’ and pressure their kids to participate before they’re ready,” Sirbaugh said. “If they don’t do well, it stays on their transcripts. It also can have an impact on future financial aid.”

Additionally, students who struggle with their CCP classes also are struggling with required high school classes at the same time, and poor performance even could affect their academic eligibility to play sports or participate in other extracurricular activities.

“There are pros and cons,” Sirbaugh said, adding that participation was steady in the early days of “duel enrollment’ when it was offered only to eligible juniors and seniors. Today, it has expanded greatly with more than 60 students at St. Clairsville High School taking advantage of College Credit Plus courses.

Some school districts struggle to fund the CCP program, which essentially presents public school districts with an unfunded mandate from the State of Ohio to pay for these college courses.

Under Ohio law, eligible high school students can take up to 30 credits per year. The college will determine a student’s eligibility and admit them based on college-readiness in one or more subject areas. The high school counselors can help students understand their options, deadlines and how to proceed.

Each high school holds College Credit Plus informational meetings that are open to all parents of grade-eligible students. At OUE, an informational session about College Credit Plus for any local students in grades 6-11 and their parents is scheduled to take place at 6 p.m. March 3 on campus in room 219 of Shannon Hall. This informational session is for students interested in take CCP courses for any college, not just OUE.

“The sessions will include a question and answer session with OUE faculty, administrators and current students in the program who will share their experiences,” Morris said.

According to figures from the state, Ohio families have been able to realize more than $569 million in tuition savings for higher education through College Credit Plus.

In West Virginia, college-preparatory programs at the high school level offer different programs to obtain college credits before officially moving on to post-secondary schools.

Jennifer Kucera-Short, guidance counselor who chairs the school curriculum department at Wheeling Park, said there are three different avenues to obtain college credits while in high school, and hundreds of students at Wheeling Park take advantage of the program.

Unlike Ohio, however, there is a nominal fee of $75 per three credit hours, which still presents a substantial savings compared to the cost of college tuition.

“We have 23 Advanced Placement — or AP –courses here, and they’re offered as part of a national program,” Kucera-Short said.

In the AP program, students take a test at the end of the school year, and depending on the score a student earns and the policies of the college or university the student selects, the student may receive three or more semester hours of college credit for each test taken.

“Each college can interpret that score differently,” Kucera-Short explained.

Students at Wheeling Park can also take College at Park — or CP –Dual Credit courses, which are not based on test scores. For these courses, students can take up to 24 college credits while in high school. Teachers who instruct the CP courses are on staff at Wheeling Park High School, and they complete certification to teach the college-level classes that fulfill both college and high school requirements. Courses taught at the high school are done so through West Liberty State College, while Park’s partnership with West Virginia Northern Community College offers Duel Credit for students who leave the high school campus and actually attend classes at Northern.

“A lot of times, we have students who graduate from Park entering their first year of college as a sophomore because of the college credits they’re already earned,” Kucera-Short said.

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