This is the second of a two-part series examining the College Credit Plus program.
By Julie Rine, Minerva Local Education Association
When I left school for summer break last June, I had 20 kids enrolled in my Honors English III class. When I came back in the fall, that class was down to seven students. SEVEN. What happened to demolish my class? College Credit Plus (CCP). Thirteen of those students who had applied for and been accepted to a college were taking a college composition course instead of my class. The AP Literature teacher in my school has a class of FOUR students this year. She also has only one section of College Prep senior English, when in the past we have had up to three full sections of that class.
The allure of free college is hard to compete with, especially for school districts that have a large number of students living in poverty. Remember that families do not pay for the CCP classes, the school district does. In fact, my small local district paid over $30,000 this year to colleges— with no additional funding from the state — and we anticipate paying more next year as the program gains popularity.
Free college credits are not the only attraction of CCP. If a student’s high school class has a required AIR test, and that student chooses to forego that class to take a CCP course in that subject area instead, he does not have to take the AIR test. The college grade equates to an AIR score. This is another factor that will pull kids away from our public schools to CCP.
It may sound fantastic to have a class of only seven students. I will admit it makes grading papers a lot faster. But it is much harder to get a good discussion going with only seven students and cooperative learning is challenging with that small number as well, and that undermines the education of students who cannot or choose not to participate in CCP.
To keep kids in our high schools and to have some sort of control over CCP, the solution seems to be for high school teachers to get certified to teach a CCP class. Currently, this means getting a master’s degree or 18 credits in the content area. I have taught high school English for twenty years, I have a Bachelor’s degree in English Education (which included 51 credits in English), a Master’s degree in Teaching, and I write professionally, yet according to CCP guidelines, I am not qualified to teach a basic college composition or Intro to Fiction class. I chose to get my master’s degree in teaching because I knew I wanted to continue my career in the classroom. I was not convinced then, nor am I now, that a few more classes in Shakespeare or Poetry will make me a better English teacher.
In any case, taking more classes to get CCP certified requires time and money, something that is just not an option for many teachers. One suggestion has been for school districts to pay more money to a middle or high school teacher who gets certified to teach CCP classes. How well do you think that would go over with elementary teachers, who would not have the same opportunity?
I might teach English, but even I can do this math; when kids leave our campus to take CCP classes, we don’t need as many teachers. What this means is that our schools are essentially being forced to pay for a program that endangers teachers’ jobs. And teachers aren’t the only staff members negatively affected by CCP. The program creates an insane amount of work for school district treasurers, who must deal with tuition and book charges, and guidance counselors.
In my school, we have one guidance counselor, and she estimates that CCP has added hundreds of hours to her workload. In addition to scheduling high school classes and helping students with emotional problems, she must now enroll CCP students in classes, monitor their grades, and track their hours/credits. Each college has a different contact person, and in our area, there are several colleges our students attend as part of the CCP program. In fact, at one college alone, she has four contacts depending on her question or concern. She sums it up by saying, “CCP has been the biggest burden of my job as a counselor thus far.”
Just as the state doesn’t provide funding to the schools to help pay for the program, it provides no funding to hire extra staff to oversee the many intricate parts of the program. It is true that if a student fails a CCP course or withdraws after a certain deadline, the school can require reimbursement from the family, but this is a tricky process and one not likely to be pleasant. Furthermore, the school district cannot require reimbursement from a student who is identified as being “economically disadvantaged”. Of course, those are the kids and families who are most drawn to the free college credits.
Fifteen percent of my high school’s population is taking at least one CCP class, and next year that percentage will be even higher. CCP is gaining in popularity despite the many problems it presents for both students and schools. Some changes should be made to improve the program, such as requiring consistent entry requirements among colleges (including teacher recommendations) and making it easier for an experienced teacher to be certified to teach CCP, but in the meantime, I will advocate for my colleagues and my students by voicing my concerns. Until improvements to the program are made, the problems of College Credit Plus clearly outweigh the perks, for both Ohio’s students and teachers.