More students getting college degrees in high school

gerri.songer's picture

Post By: USA Today
https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2015/07/07/more-students-gett...

Earning an associate degree in high school is currently being done in other states and is now being pushed at the College of Lake County. Will it be coming our way?

VIEW: http://www.dailyherald.com/news/20170426/new-clc-trustees-finger-stanton...

More than one-third of Americans have earned a postsecondary degree.

Few obtain one as a teenager. But this spring, hundreds — if not thousands — of U.S. students received associate degrees before high school commencements.

Brayan Guevara said he made a goal of earning an associate degree by the time he graduated high school. He was a student in Albany, Minn., and attended classes at St. Cloud Technical & Community College, or SCTCC. The native of Colombia said through the state's Post Secondary Enrollment Options program, he earned 66 college credits — a savings of two years and more than $10,000.

Young adults with two diplomas are outliers in programs allowing high school students to earn college credits, which operate under various names and formats. They are growing in number at about 7% per year, according to the National Alliance of Concurrent Enrollment Partnerships, or NACEP.

Executive Director Adam Lowe said he suspects more than 20% of American high school students are taking at least one college course. In Iowa and New Mexico, he said, it's more than half.

Kari Friedmann, a graduate of Sauk Rapids-Rice High School in Minnesota and holder of an SCTCC associate degree, said taking college psychology courses helped her develop a career path and "reaffirmed what I really wanted to do."

For 30 years, the state's PSEO program has made it possible for young learners to earn college credits. The pioneering program is slowly rising in popularity, but more young people choose Concurrent Enrollment, in which high school teachers conduct college-level courses in their own buildings. A similar, nationwide program — Advanced Placement — requires students to pass a class-ending test to earn college credits.

Students in PSEO attend classes either part or full time at area colleges or online. The state pays for tuition and books; students fund transportation and meals. Some haven't attended a class in a high school since sophomore year.

Like Minnesota, Colorado has seen rises in its dual enrollment programs: Concurrent Enrollment and ASCENT, or Accelerating Students through Concurrent Enrollment, which allows students to stay in a degree-earning environment during a 13th year of school. Total participation rose about 15% from 2012-13 to 2013-14.

Lowe said PSEO and similar programs present some challenges to high schools, such as sometimes pulling elite students out of classrooms. Financial tensions can arise, he said. In Minnesota, high schools lose per-pupil funding in proportion to the time a PSEO student spends on a college campus. Lowe said high schools sometimes prefer the in-class models, though in general, he doesn't see a lack of secondary support for all types of dual enrollment programs.

The arrangements tend to align with colleges' missions, Lowe said, and they can also benefit those schools by better preparing students for higher education and marketing the institutions in their areas.

He said more state programs focused on the "whole pathway to a degree" are emerging and cited Colorado as an example.

Of the 31,100 students in that state's dual enrollment programs, about 200 — or 0.6% — received an associate degree in 2013-14.

Texas saw a 130% average yearly rise in students earning associate degrees by high school graduation from 2004-09. In 2010, about 400 students — or 0.5% of dual credit enrollees — received one by the time they entered college.

Degree-earning teenagers are not only a statistical anomaly; their motivations also stand out.

The select group includes a dozen students in Central Minnesota. Students, counselors and administrators said spending less time and money at a university is a primary motivator and benefit for students in PSEO. But they all cautioned the program is not a perfect fit for every pupil.

Roxanne Schaaf, PSEO coordinator at SCTCC, said high school students considering her program need to be aware they're creating a permanent record and won't receive any coddling.

Vice President of Academic Affairs Peg Shroyer said some teenagers simply aren't ready — academically or emotionally.

Others appear to be: Schaaf said a few high school-college students earned carpentry and welding degrees this spring.

"They're already hired," she said.

Lowe said an increasing focus on manufacturing and information technology is a dual enrollment trend. His organization arose 16 years ago and now boasts 330 colleges and universities as members, along with 40 high schools or school districts and 20 state agencies.

Some states include NACEP accreditation in dual enrollment laws. Minnesota requires public colleges and universities — and encourages private ones — to award credit for courses students complete in a NACEP-certified program.

The academic routes giving teenagers college degrees do raise eyebrows among some high school staff.

Rick Larson, counselor at Apollo High School in St. Cloud, praised the time- and money-saving features of advanced PSEO paths but said he's not completely sold.

While it "feels like that's the way of the future," he questioned boys and girls forming lifelong targets a year or two earlier than a regular high school graduate.

"There's just that whole self-discovery piece as you continue to grow older," Larson said, citing his own faded dream of writing for Saturday Night Live.

Sartell High School Counselor Noel Meyer said classes such as automotive courses from SCTCC offer some students a chance to explore professions without financial risk.

"If they find this program isn't for me, at least they're not wasting money," he said.

Schaaf said some of her part-time PSEO students might take one class in the morning on campus then return to high school for the rest of the day, "just so they can stay up on what's going on."

Guevara said he knows he missed out on some high school events and drama, which was a mix of disappointment and relief. Sports let him avoid drifting apart from his peers, he said.

"I knew there was a good reason why I was missing these things," he said. Keeping that in mind, reflecting about the voids didn't bother him — "too much."