Monday, August 14, 2006

A Head Start

By Matthew Denhart

This is the second in an occasional series by student research assistants at the Center for College Affordability and Productivity

While the national graduation rate from four-year colleges and universities hovers below the 50 percent mark, perhaps the more alarming statistic is that of those graduates, 44 percent take a fifth or sixth year to finish their degree. This data, from 2004, proves a harsh reality and reveals a driving factor behind increased college costs. In a time of already sharply rising tuition prices, it is of essential importance for students to graduate in a timely fashion. A number of options are open to motivated high school students giving them a head start toward college graduation, namely: Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) courses, and post-secondary enrollment options.

In the past years I had the advantage of taking AP classes, finding them quite beneficial. Not only was I able to earn college credit, but also enjoyed and benefited from the increased academic challenge. In fact, many of my AP classes were more rigorous and demanding than college courses I have taken. Although my high school did not offer IB courses, I know other students who benefited greatly from them.

From an academic standpoint, often the senior year of high school is a wasteland. In my senior year I took college courses at Ohio University through the Ohio Senate Bill 140 program; completing 13 hours of coursework and finishing with a 4.0 GPA. The program covers the cost of virtually all aspects of participation to students in the top 20 percent of their class. The credits I’ve earned have satisfied many required courses, and placed me a quarter ahead of schedule, all with no cost to me. In addition, I was able to take courses that were not offered at my high school and explore different academic fields. Another advantage of the program is that students are able to familiarize themselves with college workloads and campus life. I quickly learned and adjusted to the differences between high school and college work. I feel that my experience has given me a huge advantage over other entering freshman here at Ohio University. Continued expansion of the program would be of great benefit to students.

Certain measures could be taken to make such programs even more successful. First, regarding AP classes, often students decide not to take the test, thus making it impossible to earn the college credit. If the state covered the $83 exam fee for all students, as is the case in Florida and South Carolina, there would be a better incentive to take the test and less risk for the student. Next, confusion over credit transferability policies are a problem in both programs. The transfer of credits is essential to ensure that vast amounts of time and money are not being wasted. Available published standards by various universities would make this process less ambiguous. Colleges and universities also need to remove all the red tape involved with transferring credits to reduce hassle and frustration. Finally, limited availability of the post secondary option is a major concern. Many high school students do not enjoy the luxury of having a college or university within a five minute drive. Expansion through technology and online courses could help reach a wider base.

With college tuition spiraling out of control it is increasingly necessary to graduate in a timely manner. The continued support and future expansion of such programs is essential in giving students a boost and head start in the world of higher education.

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