This is the first of a two-part series examining the College Credit Plus program.
By Julie Rine, Minerva Local Education Association
Ohio’s College Credit Plus program (CCP) is most likely well intended. CCP allows kids in grades 7-12 access to free dual-credit courses (college classes for which they earn high school and college credits). I’m a single mom, so I can certainly understand the fear that strikes a parent’s heart at the thought of paying for college tuition. However, I’m also a teacher, and from what I’ve seen, I’m just not sure the perks of College Credit Plus outweigh the myriad of potential problems.
First of all, not many students are academically able to skip two or more years of instruction. That is essentially what a junior in high school is doing by taking college classes his junior and senior year instead of high school classes. He skips over two years of content, instruction, guidance, and practice of skills. One of my honors sophomores from last year is now taking English at a local college. After a few weeks of class, he told me with a shade of panic and surprise in his voice, that college classes are “really, really hard”. This does not surprise me; he was an excellent student, but I spent last year preparing his class to be high school juniors, not college freshmen. It should be noted that even though high school teachers have a very good idea of which students could be successful doing college level work, by law we cannot tell a student he can’t participate in CCP.
Keep in mind that if a student does not do well in a CCP course, that low grade begins his college GPA. A ‘C’ earned by a high school student taking a college class will be a 2.0 GPA waiting for him when begins college full-time. Of course, the grade could be much worse, and the student might realize CCP is not his best option after the first semester. But it’s not easy to return to high school mid-year. A high school is not allowed to tell a student he can’t come back, but what do we do with a junior who has missed half a year of American Lit, chemistry, or pre-calc? These are not easy classes to “catch up” in. However, a small school like mine simply doesn’t have many other options for placing a returning CCP student.
Another student I know of aced her CCP French I and II classes at a local branch of a college, but could not handle French III or French II at the college she later transferred to. She ended up retaking French I at that school and earned a C. One of the concerns with College Credit Plus is the lack of consistency among schools. Scott DiMauro, OEA’s Vice President noted that,
“There are lots of questions about whether this program is really serving the needs of the students it purports to help, and one of the questions we raise in particular is whether we are setting students up for failure in the long run if we lower the bar on what actually constitutes college-level work.”
Furthermore, a student may not be ready emotionally or socially for college. A teenager who has to be reminded to do his homework, meet deadlines, study for tests, and pay attention in class may not be the best candidate for CCP. And I am horrified to think about a young, impressionable high school student hearing the conversations that happen in college classrooms before class starts. Not only that, but once class starts, the course material might be too mature for some teenagers. However, college professors are not going to alter their curriculum, which was created with students 18 and older in mind, simply because a high school student is taking the class.
Having the opportunity to take college courses while still in high school is stressful even for the best students. My honors sophomores feel as if they have to decide what they want to do with the rest of their lives right now so they take the “right” classes next year. Why can’t we just let them be kids? Perhaps the great musician/philosopher John Mellencamp said it best: “Hold on to 16 as long as you can/ Changes come around real soon/ Make us women and men”.
Let’s say that a student is academically, socially, and emotionally ready for college, can handle the material, stays on track, and finishes college with a degree earlier than usual, thanks to CCP. We now have a 20 or 21 year old (or younger!) with no job experience competing for jobs with 24 or 25 year olds with no job experience. Who would you hire? By pushing our kids to earn college credits while in high school, we may be setting them up for a challenging job hunt in an already tight job market. Of course the retirement age isn’t lowered for people who finish college early; we are also setting our kids up to have to work for more years than ever before.
My retired teacher friend Dianne said, “High school is where you learn to think and where your teachers prepare you to succeed in college. Short cutting that, it would seem to me, is not in the best interest of the kid.” That says it all. As an advocate for my students, I simply cannot support College Credit Plus in its current form.