Lincoln County School District: Trying to give many more high school students a head start on college
During a recent joint meeting of the Lincoln County School Board and the Board of Education for Oregon Coast Community College, both bodies were trying to sell each other on their own approach to exposing high school students to college level courses while still in high school.
From the college board’s perspective, high school students attend regular classes at Oregon Coast Community College with regular college instructors, offering an authentic college experience.
But from the school district’s perspective, and certainly with the point of view of the district’s newly hired Superintendent Steve Boynton, only a small segment of Lincoln County 11th and 12th graders are currently being exposed to higher education through the “expanded options” program at OCCC. Boynton told News Lincoln County that such an arrangement leaves out hundreds of other students who would also benefit by getting college credit for those courses even before they graduate from high school. Boynton says it’s common throughout Oregon for graduating high school seniors to earn their high school diploma and then enter their local community college or a regular university as a 2nd or 3rd year student while effectively by-passing nearly all the costs for getting there.
Boynton says it’s called “dual-credit,” and has given thousands of high school students statewide early exposure to higher level courses they might never have experienced. Lincoln County School Board Chair Liz Martin says not only do the students get a big head start on college, it costs the school district a lot less per student than physically putting students in chairs at a college. “With dual-credit” we can offer college level courses at all four of our high schools, not just at Newport and Taft – offering those courses for up to 700 students, not just 175 as we’ve been doing. That’s what we mean when we say it’s an equity issue.”
Boynton says the school district intends to work closely with OCCC on future opportunities to better integrate education courses but that the old expanded options approach is not equitable for the greatest number of students in Lincoln County. Boynton quickly adds that there is an array of different “get-a-jump-on college” programs offered around the state to accommodate high school students in many socio-economic situations. Dual credit is just one of them.
Boynton says quality college courses can be taught in all four Lincoln County high schools with a hybrid teaching format that focuses on college level instruction, testing and students earning college credits. He said it’s common for students under the dual-credit system to receive their A.A. college degree in the same week that they receive their high school diploma. But at the least, high school students learning under the dual-credit system can enter a community college, or even a four year college like the University of Oregon or Oregon State University, as a second year student – a full year leap ahead from where they would be normally – and it’s free to the student or at very low cost. Boynton says it dramatically expands college opportunities for all Lincoln County students – not just for some.
Boynton adds that the school district is eager to begin a long term relationship with Oregon Coast Community College to become a major partner with the school district for perhaps college-level writing and math classes for as many high school students that sign up.
Yet there were those who contend there is no substitute for high school students to travel to a community college – actually be in a community college classroom – to soak up the atmosphere and the ambiance of a higher education environment. They contend it’s not the same as taking higher level courses at a high school.
But Lincoln County School Board Chair Liz Martin says this so-called “Extended Options” program is very expensive compared to the “Dual-Credit” program. She said, “We can offer higher learning to three or four times as many students with dual-credit than we can with expanded options. We need more students to realize they are capable of doing college level work, and they will, if they’re properly encouraged and coached with the dual-credit program.”
Martin re-iterated Superintendent Boynton’s remarks that the school district is very committed to working with Oregon Coast Community College to start and later expand the dual-credit program. They’ll seek to work with OCCC for college level writing, math and possibly other courses while shopping other community colleges that offer a wider array of standard and specialty courses that will be demanded by a growing number of Lincoln County students enrolling in the program. The district will also rely on OCCC to continue offering the expanded options program, but for far fewer students.
This past week another rather large fly flew into the ointment of this discussion – the Oregon Supreme Court. The high court ruled that recent statewide reforms of the Public Employees Retirement System were partially flawed which will significantly escalate retirement costs for state and local government entities – especially schools. With hundreds of millions of dollars of now “back-due” cost of living increases for current, and about-to-become retirees, it will put a large squeeze on school district budgets – not only to get PERS back up to speed but also to begin paying into PERS at a higher rate than over the past two years. And of course this will affect all aspects of school operations, not the least of which will involve making sure that offering college level courses in high schools are as cost effective as they can be. And as school administrators weigh the cost between “extended options vs dual-credit,” the choice may be made for them.