Idaho is spending $12 million on courses that colleges don’t always accept

Are dual credit courses the right fit?

A Centennial High School counselor gives you ideas to consider before taking a college class in high school.
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A Centennial High School counselor gives you ideas to consider before taking a college class in high school.

Some Idaho high school students are getting a surprise when they get to college: Many of the dual-credit classes they took to get a jump on their higher education — paid for by taxpayer money — don’t count toward their majors or their required classes, or are even accepted at all.

For kids who go to state colleges and universities in Idaho, the classes they take in high school for college credit aren’t wasted, but sometimes they count only as lower-value elective classes.

“We are hearing from the governor’s office and legislators that the state might be spending a lot of money on courses that may not be helping students,” said Matt Freeman, Idaho State Board of Education executive director.

State officials can’t say how many students or what share of credits are affected. But the Education Board is working on legislation that could put sideboards on dual-credit classes. The proposal could limit dual credit to classes that apply to majors or course requirements, Freeman said.

The proposal will go to the State Board next month.

Idaho’s public institutions accept dual-credit classes — indeed, many of those classes are taught through the university by high school teachers. A handful of private schools, including Northwest Nazarene University and Brigham Young University-Idaho, also accept them. Schools outside of Idaho may or may not.

Beginning last school year, Idaho made $4,125 available to all students between seventh and 12th grades to use toward paying for Advanced Placement college tests, professional-technical tests for certificates and dual-credit classes that apply toward a college degree.

Idaho budgeted about $6 million for advanced opportunities, but students ended up using double that as they surged into dual-credit classes, which is where most of the money went, Freeman said. School districts are still tallying the number of students who enrolled in dual credit last school year. But in 2015-16, approximately 18,000 were enrolled, up 250 percent from 5,000 in 2008, according to the State Board. Enrollment for 2017 is expected to be significantly higher.

The state has made a priority of getting Idaho high school students to go on to postsecondary training or college and the dual credits are “a tremendous tool” for that, said Linda Clark, State Board of Education president and former superintendent at West Ada School District.

Fewer than half of Idaho seniors go on to college immediately after high school.

Educators like Clark see dual-credit classes as a boon to getting students into college and moving toward the state’s goal of having 60 percent of Idahoans age 25 to 34 hold some type of degree or certificate. In 2015, two-thirds of Idaho students who took dual-credit classes enrolled in college within one year of graduation. Among those who did not take dual credit, just 39 percent enrolled, according to the Education Board.

A Centennial High School counselor gives you ideas to consider before taking a college class in high school.

Between 2008 and 2016, 80 percent of students enrolled in dual credit in high school returned to college for a second year, compared with 70 percent for non-dual credit.

For parents facing mounting college costs, dual credit is a way to slice the families’ education bill, said Alyson Townsley, a college and career counselor at Centennial High School in West Ada School District.

“The dollars ... are like diamonds,” she said.

Baylee Roberson, who will be a Kuna High School senior, is an example of Idaho high school students who are successfully working with their counselors to make sure dual-credit classes count toward their college degrees, said Kathy Purin, the college career coordinator at Kuna High School. Purin’s job is work with students like Baylee to help them get the most out of their credits. Purin said there are counselors like her doing similar work in most of Idaho’s bigger districts.

Baylee is working on getting her GEM certification, which would go to meet her college core education requirements, Purin said. The GEM certificates are one way that the state helps ensure the credits go toward degrees at Idaho’s public colleges and universities, Purin said.

Cody Allred, who graduated this year from Council High School, will have earned enough college credits through the Idaho Digital Learning Academy from the four to six dual-credit classes she took each year to make her a sophomore halfway through her first year of college.

She took a lot of classes she knew were electives, such as how to transition into college, career life planning and lifetime fitness. But she also took a yearlong course in humanities to fulfill a basic education requirement. But just one semester of that class transferred to the University of Idaho to meet her education requirement. The other is considered an elective.

“I was a little bit frustrated,” she said. “It was a very challenging course.”

Credit surprises typically happen for a variety of reasons, state officials say.

1. A student likes a course of study and takes more classes than is needed to meet the education requirement.

2. Students discover that a basic education class they take, in science for instance, doesn’t meet the requirement for the specific major they are planning to study.

3. Students take classes to fit a major while still in high school, but then change their course of study once they get to college.

Against this backdrop, schools are taking steps to help guide students through the dual-credit maze.

At Boise State University, for example, a team from the dual-credit office visits every class it sponsors in the Treasure Valley to talk with students, said Fabiola Juarez-Coca, Boise State’s director of concurrent enrollment. “We have about 200 teachers we work with and 50 high schools we visit,” Juarez-Coca said. “We’re on the road for six weeks.”

Her team will dispense essential information such as whether a class will help students meet major and education requirement goals, she said. The school also offers Sophomore Start, a program where students and parents work with Boise State advisers on a dual-credit plan for high school.

Idaho Digital Learning Academy, which had more than 2,000 students enrolled in dual-credit classes last school year, has undertaken reforms to make sure students have a better idea where their credits will end up.

Misaligned credits have “been a challenge to a number of students,” said Cheryl Charlton, Idaho Digital Learning Academy superintendent. The academy has instituted programs to help students better understand credit transfers, career planning and information on dual credits at the Idaho Digital Learning Academy.

State Board staff will pull together draft legislation linking dual credits to degrees or certificates for the board to consider and possibly send to Gov. Butch Otter next month. Otter could introduce a bill next year.

Even before the law is drafted, some lawmakers are struggling with the idea of tying dual-credit classes just to basic education or degree requirements. State. Sen. Steven Thayn, R-Emmett, who authored the bill to create Advanced Opportunities that led to the $4,100 account for students, said dual credit should allow students to explore college classes in high school.

“Kids have an opportunity to take different studies ... and find out if they like them,” he said.

He would prefer to address potential problems with dual credit through school counselors. Districts have added counselors, mentors and programs to boost college attendance with a $7 million appropriation for this school year.

State Board and Department of Education officials are planning expanded training for counselors on dual credit, which would include understanding which credits can be the most beneficial.

Dual credit “is a really, really important tool in the tool box,” said Clark, the State Board president. “Our focus on the board will be (clarifying what are) elective credits. When a family makes a decision, they need to know that is an elective. It doesn’t always happen.”

Editor’s note: This story has been edited to reflect material omitted when it was originally published July 18.

Reporter Bill Roberts retired on July 14. If you have feedback on this story or ideas for education coverage, please email news editor Dave Staats at