If you follow Ohio education news, you’ve likely seen coverage of the breakout success of College Credit Plus (CCP). Local papers have called the program a “big hit” after participation numbers in the fall reached nearly thirty-two thousand students. Anecdotes abound from students and families who say the program saves them time and money and provides valuable experience. But what exactly is it? And is it better than the dual enrollment models of the past? Let’s take a look.
Dual enrollment of yesteryear
Prior to CCP, Ohio’s Post-Secondary Enrollment Options Program (PSEOP) was the primary way for high schoolers to earn college and high school credit simultaneously. PSEOP was established in 1989 by the General Assembly for students in grades eleven and twelve, expanded in 1997 to grades nine and ten, and then restricted in 1999 to students with a GPA of 3.0 or higher. Despite the program’s potential, a report available through the Education Resources Information Center (ERIC) labeled PSEOP “under-utilized” because of low participation numbers. In its first year, only 630 students participated; that number increased tenfold by 1997–98, but still only reflected a 2.5 percent participation rate. Reports of 2010–11 numbers show only 11,342 participating students. The ERIC report also found that districts were reluctant to promote the program because it was funded by transferring money away from the district to post-secondary institutions. In addition, many educators “resent[ed] the loss of their strongest students.” A 2005 brief from the Ohio Association for Gifted Children contended that some districts even discouraged participation in PSEOP by making it “difficult or impossible for students to participate in extracurricular functions such as sports or clubs.” In short, the program had some serious flaws holding it back.
Enter College Credit Plus
CCP was created via a state budget bill and officially began in the 2015–16 school year. Just like PSEOP, it offers students the chance to earn high school and college credit at the same time, but legislators addressed many of the issues that had limited previous participation. For instance, students are eligible to take part in CCP beginning in seventh grade rather than having to wait for high school. All students in Ohio—including those who attend private schools or are homeschooled—are eligible to participate. CCP offers students three ways to earn college credit: by taking a course on a college campus; through a college course delivered at the student’s high school by a credentialed teacher; or via an online course. To participate, students must declare their intent to their school counselor by April 1. Before registering, students must be admitted to the college based on college readiness—a decision that’s determined by GPA, end-of-course (EOC) exam scores, and other available student data. Once admitted to a college, students can register for any course the school offers (except for those that are considered remedial or religious) as long as they are deemed college-ready in the subject.
In keeping with the purpose of dual enrollment, a student’s successful completion of a three-credit-hour college course counts for one Carnegie unit of high school credit. While earned credits can be applied toward high school graduation requirements, CCP does not replace all state requirements for earning a diploma—including requirements related to graduation tests. All CCP courses are factored into a student’s high school GPA and weighted the same as AP and IB courses of the same subject in their district. This means that if a student fails a CCP course, they receive an F grade on their high school and college transcripts, and the F is calculated into the student’s GPA at both institutions.
Students who choose to seek credits through a public college aren’t charged for tuition, textbooks, or fees; students who opt for a private college may be charged, though there is a maximum charge amount. Funding is determined by the Ohio Revised Code, which mandates that the state pay the cost of CCP for public school students by withholding a specified amount of the district’s per-pupil funding (which is the same mechanism used by PSEOP). For the 2016–17 school year, districts will be charged up to $166 per credit hour for a student to attend a course at a college or online; $83 for a student to complete a course in a high school that’s taught by college faculty; and $41.50 for a student to complete a course in a high school that’s taught by a high school teacher who meets credential requirements.
CCP: The benefits
Many of CCP’s benefits are direct responses to the weaknesses of PSEOP. For instance, districts are required by law to provide program information and counseling services to all students in grades 6–11 prior to March 1, and they must allow any student in grades 7–12 who qualifies for college admission to participate. For students who suffer from Ohio's course access problem, CCP offers a chance to take classes that aren’t offered by their school without paying out of pocket or searching for a new school to transfer to. For families with gifted or advanced students, CCP is a chance for acceleration even as early as seventh grade (though very few middle schoolers will be mature enough to take advantage). While some folks may accurately argue that AP and IB are great programs that already fulfill this need, the fact remains that many high schools in the Buckeye State don’t offer IB and only offer a small (or even nonexistent) slate of AP courses. For students in high-poverty rural and urban areas, CCP may be the only way to take high-level courses in basic subjects, let alone electives.
Furthermore, beginning this year, students will be permitted to participate in CCP during the summer. The privilege of extending education into the summer months has long been limited to affluent families, thereby widening the opportunity gap. CCP is a chance for low-income families to seize academic opportunities during the summer months. It’s also a chance for all families to combat “summer slide.” The ability of students to opt for an online course or for districts to house college courses on high school campuses means that even students without reliable transportation can take part. Enrollment in CCP doesn’t affect a student’s athletic eligibility (though OHSAA eligibility rules based on grades still apply), so student-athletes can also enjoy CCP’s benefits. Perhaps the greatest benefit is that in the midst of rising college costs and student debt, CCP offers Ohio students a chance to earn college credit, explore possible majors, and get a taste for higher education without taking on massive financial responsibilities.
A potentially controversial but important component of the program can also be found in CCP’s eligibility requirements, which permit only college-ready students to enroll. This restriction is critical for two reasons. First, it ensures that only students who are academically prepared for the rigors of college are able to participate—a safeguard that prevents students from the double-whammy of a failing grade on both their high school and college transcripts. Second, a student who is ineligible for CCP one year can still become eligible the following year if they are able to demonstrate college readiness; this could provide students with more motivation to work hard to reach the college readiness bar. A college freshman who isn’t college-ready, on the other hand, has no options except expensive, non-credit-bearing remedial courses.
As with anything in education these days, CCP has its naysayers. Many of the complaints are put forth by districts that dislike the way the program is funded. But in the age of school choice, districts may need to ask themselves if the cost of CCP is less than the cost of students transferring elsewhere—whether to a homeschool environment or to a private, charter, or open-enrollment school—in order to find courses that their home district doesn’t offer. Districts should also note that the “prepared for success” component (which goes into effect in 2015–16) on Ohio's school report cards provides an incentive for districts to support CCP: Districts are given additional points toward their grade for each student that earns CCP credits.
Overall, CCP is a far better dual enrollment program than its predecessors. It offers free college credit to Ohio students while maintaining important safeguards for academically unprepared students. The provisions in state law requiring that students be given program information and counseling are a step up from days past, when many students were unaware of post-secondary opportunities. Ohio policy makers deserve kudos for making CCP a reality.