At a track meet, the runners take off when the starter pistol fires, not before. It’s just like in football – neither side can cross the line of scrimmage until the ball is snapped. If they do, it’s a five-yard penalty. Similar rules apply elsewhere, whether sports or taking a test in school. You can’t start early, or you’re breaking the rules.
The exception, however, is college. Starting early isn’t only encouraged, but it can be done in Ohio without cost to the student or family, and in the end everyone wins.
How is that possible? Ohio’s College Credit Plus (CCP) program, which lets middle and high school students earn free college credit for classes they are already taking. Not only does this help to lower the overall cost of higher education when they later enroll in college, but it also helps students graduate from college faster.
Since its creation in 2015, CCP has become increasingly popular with Ohio students and families. Today, more than 76,000 students participate in it every year and get a jump-start on college and life. In fact, in 2020, participating students earned an average of 14 college credits – that’s nearly five courses – allowing them to enter college with nearly an entire semester already completed. The savings? Approximately $155 million for Ohio families.
Some high school students have been so successful in CCP that they complete high school having already earned their associate’s degree. Imagine that, graduating from high school with half of your work toward a bachelor’s degree already completed. About 8,000 students have done it, potentially cutting the cost of college in half and allowing some students to enter their career fields two years early.
As parents of high school students, we want Ohio’s kids to have every opportunity to reach their full potential. CCP is one way to do it. We have worked together to promote the program, and a review of CCP operations conducted by the Auditor of State’s Office confirmed that when students enroll early and use CCP to the greatest extent possible, they can save thousands of dollars on higher education costs. Opportunities for improvement exist, however, and more can be done to bring the program’s benefit to more Ohioans.
Despite the enormous advantages of CCP, a wide disparity exists among school districts in how well this program is embraced. Many families aren’t aware it exists. (You can check how well your school district is doing, via an online dashboard at https://ohioauditor.gov/performance/college-credit-plus.html.)
One easy path to improved participation would be for the Ohio Department of Higher Education and the Ohio Department of Education to work on a joint marketing campaign and make it easier for students to enroll. Also, the Ohio Department of Higher Education and Ohio Department of Education need to refine and tailor a program to encourage participation among low-performing districts.
Of particular concern is that economically disadvantaged and minority students participate in the program at lower rates than their peers. This is unfortunate, because studies have shown that students in low-income and minority groups enroll in college at higher rates after participating in dual enrollment programs. Students also tend to have better outcomes while in college, such as higher retention rates, higher grade point averages, and higher graduation rates. More can and must be done to ensure that every Ohio student and family has real and meaningful access to CCP.
Ohio has some of the finest higher education institutions in our country, and our willingness as a state to make them accessible to as many Ohioans as possible through efforts like College Credit Plus is something about which we can all be proud. By taking CCP to the next level, not only will more students be able to use it to move up, but Ohio benefits as a whole from a larger workforce filled with people with greater skills. Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine understands the benefits of CCP, and in his most recent budget proposed $15 million to provide high school teachers with the required training to teach college courses vastly improving access for all. If your student is in seventh grade or above and isn’t enrolled in CCP, we encourage you to learn more by asking your local school district. They and Ohio will be better off for it.
Keith Faber is the Auditor of Ohio and Jack Hershey is the president of the Ohio Association of Community Colleges.