Sebastian Griffin, a sophomore at Nampa High School, grins as he lays out his ambitious plans for completing high school and college — at the same time.
First he is packing his high school days with dual-credit classes, those he can take for both high school and college credit. And while still in high school, he’ll take more dual-credit classes at the College of Western Idaho campus in Nampa.
By the end of his junior year in high school, he hopes he’ll have an associate of arts degree. He’ll finish his senior year at Nampa High, graduate, go on a two-year church mission and then enroll as a junior at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, where he expects to major in business.
Teachers say many students took dual-credit classes, even though they could not afford to pay the roughly $200 to earn the credit toward their college diplomas.
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The beauty of his vision is that the first two years of college he completes while in high school likely won’t cost him a penny.
The reason: Griffin plans to take full advantage of Idaho’s new Advanced Opportunities program, which sets aside up to $4,125 per Idaho student to use between seventh and 12th grades to pay for certain academic costs such as dual-credit classes that can run students and families hundreds of dollars.
“It opens up a lot more opportunities for me and a lot more classes that I don’t have to pay for,” said Griffin, 16. “I wouldn’t (be doing) the associate’s degree if it wasn’t for that funding.”
Advanced Opportunities has produced a surge in students seeking dual-credit classes at Nampa High School and around the state. Idaho appears on track to double the number of dollars spent on Advanced Opportunities programs this year, compared to the previous year.
Even before the state offered to cover most of the cost, the program was catching on with students. Between the 2008 and 2016 school years, the number of students in dual-credit classes rose 252 percent to 17,659.
The State Department of Education estimates that in the first semester of this year, it will pay $4.4 million under Advanced Opportunities for dual-credit, advanced-placement tests and other exams and certificates that students once would have paid to take. For all of last year, it paid $4.6 million. The largest payout goes to dual-credit credit.
This is such a great opportunity.
Jenny Johnson, Nampa High School college and career advocate
Nicole Dodge teaches Advanced Placement U.S. history at Nampa High. Her class, which also doubles as a dual-credit class, had 23 students enrolled last fall. Enrollment more than doubled to 53 this fall, and she added a second section.
Idaho colleges and universities report double- and triple-digit increases in the number of public school students enrolled in their dual-credit classes.
State officials hope this will be one more tool to try to improve Idaho’s abysmal rate at which students leave high school and go immediately on to college, which has sunk to 44 percent.
“I think it has made a huge difference,” said Jenny Johnson, a college and career advocate at Nampa High School hired this year as part of the Legislature’s push to get more counselors in school hallways encouraging students to think beyond high school. “This has been one of the main things I focused on this semester.”
133 percent Estimated increase in students enrolled in dual-credit courses at the College of Western Idaho this fall compared to last fall
Some principals worry that the sudden surge could leave them without enough college-approved instructors to teach dual-credit classes if enrollment keeps rising.
WILL IT HELP IDAHO’S ‘GO-ON’ RATE?
National and state data indicate that students who leave high school with college credits tucked in their back pockets are more likely to go on to college.
Idaho is one of 10 states that have essentially removed the financial barrier of students paying for college-level classes in high school or middle school by picking up the tab, said Adam Lowe, executive director of the National Alliance of Concurrent Enrollment Partnerships in Chapel Hill, N.C.
A 2012 Texas report shows students with dual-credit classes were 2.2 times as likely to enroll in a Texas two- or four-year postsecondary institution; they were twice as likely as other students to come back to college for a second year. The report was done by Jobs for The Future, a Boston-based nonprofit that seeks to improve college readiness.
In Idaho, 64 percent of high school students who graduated in 2015 with dual credits went on to college. But that number is down from 77 percent in 2011. It’s too early to gauge how the sudden rush to dual-credit classes will affect college enrollment as students graduate. But the State Board of Education says students who earn college credit in high school show better grade-point averages in college than students who don’t, and their retention rate is better.
Students with dual credits already have experienced college classes and know what to expect, said Blake Youde, State Board of Education spokesman. Retention improves because students already have credits. “(They) can see a finish line sooner,” he said.
Idaho doesn’t yet know how many students who never thought of going to college change their minds by now being able to afford dual-credit or Advanced Placement classes.
Idaho’s strategy is to remove barriers and hope that helps. Paying for college credits is one approach. Sending high school seniors acceptance letters from Idaho colleges and universities before students even apply is another. Insisting students take a college entrance exam in their junior year is a third. All are intended to demystify college, and make it seem more inviting and approachable.
Between 2008 and 2015, the college-retention rate for students with dual credit in high school was 80 percent, compared to 70 percent for students with no dual credit, State Board officials say.
“People are starting to appreciate the benefit” of dual-credit classes, said Emma Atchley, State Board president. “They help prepare kids for college.”
TOO MUCH, TOO FAST?
Dual-credits classes aren’t easy. The high school students use college textbooks. They aren’t spoon-fed information.
In Dodge’s U.S. history class in Nampa, the discussion on a recent day was whether President Abraham Lincoln was a racist. Students had to gather information from primary sources — not an encyclopedia — to bolster their arguments one way or the other. “Students have to think on their own,” Dodge said.
Abby Sable, a Nampa High sophomore, is attracted to dual-credit classes for the economics and the learning. She’s taking a dual-credit world history class this year and wants to take more dual-credit classes as a junior. “I want to get as far ahead as I can.”
But dual credit’s sudden popularity could create problems.
Nampa High School has 16 teachers who are approved to teach dual-credit courses in 24 classes, among them English, zoology, Algebra 3 and Spanish.
The school is looking to see if it can get a speech teacher approved for dual-credit instruction.
It isn’t always easy, said Diana Molino, Nampa High’s principal. Often the course work necessary for the teacher to get approved is expensive.
Teachers wonder “will I get a pay raise?” Molino said. “Other times, the cost-benefit ratio isn’t worth it.”
And a tight teacher hiring pool makes it more difficult to readily find teachers qualified to teach dual-credit classes.
“If I don’t get more in-building (resources) for teachers, I can’t meet the demand,” she said.
How dual credit works
Teachers in public schools can apply to be recognized as an instructor for a college, such as the College of Western Idaho or Boise State University. They must meet the same requirements as adjunct professors at those schools.
Public schools and colleges work together to create a curriculum that meets both the high school and college standards.
Under previous programs, juniors and seniors who enrolled in dual-credit classes got some money to help defray expenses, which can be nearly $200 for a college class. That subsidy covered just one or two classes.
Many students couldn’t afford the additional costs, which could amount to several hundred dollars.
Under Idaho’s Advanced Opportunities, the umbrella of financial help was expanded from juniors and seniors to students as early as seventh grade. Moreover, students can use the money in several ways. The practical effect is that students today can now enroll in multiple dual-credit classes with no out-of-pocket expenses.
Dual-credit boosts college enrollment
An increased number of students signing up for dual credit in high school is showing up in Idaho college’s enrollment. This fall colleges reported these dual-enrollment numbers:
▪ Boise State University: 35 percent increase, to 3,914
▪ College of Western Idaho: 133 percent increase (preliminary) to 2,536
▪ University of Idaho: 24 percent increase, to 1,494.
▪ Idaho State University: 23.7 percent increase, to 2,399
▪ Lewis Clark State College: 76 percent increase, to 650