District forced to carry financial burden of College Credit Plus

Students take college classes through CCP

Duncan MacKenzie | Staff Writer

$60,990,993 — That’s how much students saved in college tuition costs statewide after the first semester of last school year by participating in the College Credit Plus (CCP) program.

CCP is offered by every school district in Ohio and allows students grades seven to 12 to earn high school and college credit at the same time by taking college courses through community colleges or universities, at the expense of the student’s school district.

The program’s guidelines are spelled out in law, passed by the Ohio General Assembly and signed by Governor Kasich in 2014, but it is the brainchild of John Carey, Chancellor of the Ohio Department of Higher Education.

As Chancellor, Carey oversees the state’s public institutions and provides policy guidance to the General Assembly and Governor. Before CCP became a law, Chancellor Carey crafted a collaborative letter of recommendation to the Governor outlining the state’s need for a new system of dual credit. Carey said that through his recommendation, he sought to equalize the opportunities for students to receive college credit, something failed by CCP’s predecessor.

“Before (CCP), the Post Secondary Option worked very well in some high schools and benefitted some students, but what we found was that the opportunities were very uneven,” Carey said. “It could be doing great at your high school, but the high school right next to you, they might not have any programs available to students, so they weren’t getting the same opportunities to earn early college credit.”

Carey said that before CCP, it was in the school’s hands to release information about dual credit opportunities. Now, it is written into the law that the school is required to post information about CCP on their website and host an informational meeting at the end of the school year.

“What we have implemented is providing information directly to the students and to the families,” Carey said. “High school is still very important. The student is actually both a high school student and a college student, so keeping that tie with the high school is important to get that correct counseling and make sure that the student is staying on track, and they’re taking the right courses in college that benefit them. Now CCP goes directly to the student.”

Assistant Principal Shanna Bumiller said that she can remember dual enrollment programs at her high school. She said main difference between PSEO and CCP is who pays for the program.

“If you look back at history, we have always had this option, it just wasn’t well publicized,” Bumiller said. “It was called Post Secondary Enrollment Option, or PSEO. So even when I was in high school, I had friends that would go and take advanced Spanish classes at Kent State University. That was paid for by the state. Now, we are required to post information about College Credit Plus, and that is incurred by the district. It is a huge financial burden.”

In order to create equal opportunities for all students across Ohio to earn early college credit, regardless of their ability to pay for it, the law requires that the student’s school district finances nearly every aspect of the program, from the credit hours to the textbooks and parking passes. The school has yet to receive last year’s bill for the program from the Ohio Department of Education, but the price for the textbooks alone totaled $22,793.54.

The price for the courses themselves are negotiated between the districts and the community colleges. Prices can range from the floor price of $41.50 per credit hour to the ceiling price of $160 per credit hour. The two most popular community colleges for Mason CCP students are Sinclair, which charges the floor price, and UC Blue Ash, which charges $120 per credit hour.

Last year, the program’s first year of implementation, 49 Mason students took at least one course through CCP either online or at Sinclair or UC Blue Ash campus. One CCP course was administered at Mason High School last year by a Sinclair professor, American Sign Language, which had 21 participants. Students can take a single, three credit hour semester long course, or they can take up to the maximum of 30 credit hours over the course of two semesters.

Although the district has yet to receive last year’s bill for the program, Treasurer Rhonda Johnson said the added expenditure causes other aspects of Mason City Schools to suffer.

“Public schools in the state of Ohio are responsible for PK – 12 education,” Johnson said. “While we support the increased opportunities for students in the College Credit Plus program, this is another example of a mandate that is placed upon public schools without additional funding to support it. All unfunded mandates force us to reallocate our resources. As this program continues to cost us more and more money, that simply means that we have less resources to contribute to areas that we believe are important for PK-12 programming.”

Chancellor Carey has a different view of a school district’s finances. Every school district in Ohio receives a certain amount of money per pupil, which he said is money that belongs to the student.

“Funds that are allocated by the state basically follow the student,” Carey said. “When they spend those dollars, if it’s more beneficial to you as a student to take College Credit Plus, we want those dollars to go as far as they can. We don’t view them as the school’s dollars, we view them as the student’s. The student’s resources for them to get an education.”

The amount of money each district in Ohio receives for their pupils varies. The formula per pupil is $6,000 for Fiscal Year 16-17. School funding is a shared responsibility between the state of Ohio and the local community, so every public school district in Ohio has an expectation to contribute a local share to that amount depending on the district’s average property and income wealth. At Mason, the state sends 42.38 percent of $6,000, or $2,542. The rest is paid for by local taxpayer dollars.

Assistant Superintendent Heather Sass said that public school districts have limitations on their funds which aren’t in place on universities.

“It’s tougher for districts because we don’t have tuition that we can raise,” Sass said. “We fund our schools in a very different way through millage, and that millage has constraints pressed upon it by the laws in our state, so we continually work to get adequate funding. It’s just two different ways of funding, public education versus universities.”

Because of these constrictions, Sass said that there needs to be a change in the financial structure of the law, requiring more financial contribution from the universities.

“In terms of the college tuition and us paying them, I’m not sure that it exactly is an exchange of money as more as it is an exchange of how the funding flows,” Sass said. “What would’ve come to our district flows into the college funding instead of ours. I would look at the financial structure for sure. I’m not sure that it’s fair to put the burden of that completely on the school districts.”

Another aspect of the program is how a college course transfers onto both high school and college transcripts. The program states that a one semester, three credit hour college course is equal to a one year high school course. The courses also receive the same GPA weight as the high school’s AP class.

Additionally, because there is no limit on how many credits a student can obtain and it is open to seventh and eighth graders, Bumiller said that she has seen a student graduate from Mason and enter college with status as a junior. She said that some MHS teachers are concerned about the motives for taking CCP courses.

“Sometimes teachers feel a little threatened in terms of student wellbeing,” Bumiller said. “They see all students making that chase, which isn’t true all the time, but they are kind of concerned about that for student’s well-being. What are we doing? Are we perpetuating this mentality that it is all about the GPA, it is all about the class standing? I don’t think we are, but some teachers and staff members kind of go, ‘Is that really what we should be about?’ because they are concerned about high school students being high school students and taking advantage of the social aspects.”

There are many ways that a student can gain access to a CCP course. A student can either take courses at the community college’s campus or online. Only two courses are administered on Mason High School’s campus, Multivariable Calculus and American Sign Language, but they aren’t part of the high school’s curriculum.

These classes are taught by Sinclair College professors, and although they take place in the physical boundaries of Mason, the students step into Sinclair when they enter the classroom door and are treated as college students.

Senior Austin Ma is currently taking Multivariable Calculus, a new class this year, and he said that it provides him with a glimpse into the skills needed to acquire a college degree.

“I think it will help me by allowing me to realize how important practice is, you always have to do your homework,” Ma said. “(In high school courses), you always have to do busy work, but (CCP) is more based on retention. You can’t really have senioritis here because this is part of your major. I’m going into engineering, so this is part of my major. I have to take it seriously.”

Nicole Kraimer is a senior at Mason High School, but takes classes at University of Cincinnati Blue Ash. She is taking five courses at UC this semester, a total of 18 credit hours. Kraimer said that she has stepped into the college experience as a high schooler.

“The entire learning environment is different because you only go to class two or three days a week, and you just do a lot more on your own,” Kraimer said. “I’m not in classes that often, but once I go home, there’s a lot more homework and reading that you have to do to prepare for your next lecture, as opposed to in high school, you’re given more activities to do in class and you don’t have as much homework.”

Kraimer said that on top of her college experience, she is saving big time.

“(I am saving) probably like 10 to 12 thousand dollars because I don’t have to pay for anything,” Kraimer said. “My books are paid for, my parking pass is paid for, I don’t have to pay for any of my classes, and I’m getting my entire year of freshman college done for free.”

Senior Kira Nikolaides also decided to take the college campus route. She is enrolled in 15 credit hours this semester at UC Blue Ash and is taking four classes total: English, Intro to Psychology, Calculus I, and Physics I. CCP allows her to finish her final graduation requirement, English IV, in half the time, so she can work as a camp counselor in the spring.

“The main reason is that I wanted to graduate early, in December, and the main thing that was stopping me from doing that was English because you need four years of it and I have all my other requirements,” Nikolaides said. “With the College Credit Plus program, one semester of a college class is equal to two semesters of a high school class. So taking English through this allowed me to do that, so then I can graduate early.”

Because CCP is unique to Ohio, the credits don’t necessarily carry over to public universities outside of Ohio’s border. The law requires all in-state universities to accept the credit, but just like a regular community college, all out-of-state universities determine how much credits earned at a community college are worth.

A study performed by the City University of New York in 2014 found that only 58 percent of students transferring from a community college to a four-year institution are able to bring all or almost all, 90 percent or more, of their credits with them. Nikolaides said that although she may not receive credit for her CCP courses, she still intends on heading out-of-state for college.

“It would count as a semester of credit if I went to a school in Ohio, because all the colleges in Ohio have to accept the credits that you take in this program, but if it’s a school outside of Ohio then they don’t necessarily have to take the credits,” Nikolaides said. “If I go to a school in Ohio, then I could potentially graduate from college early, but if I go outside of Ohio, which I probably will, then they might not accept the credits.”

Sass said that she agrees with the idea of CCP, but the funding facet is something that will need revision.

“I think it’s important for us to keep opportunities open, and that has been a big driver behind College Credit Plus, and that’s why I think the concept of it is a really good thing,” Sass said. “As long as we have those kinds of things available in the state, more kids are going to have doors open for them, and that’s great. It’s just how we fund it is challenging, and we need to look at that and figure out if that’s equitable to all the systems involved.”