Kristin Hohman
Staff Writer

Starting this fall, Brookside High School students will be able to earn their high school diploma and an associate degree concurrently.

Research from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation initiated the early college high school program. The study came up with the theory that by taking 100 students from each class (freshmen, sophomores, etc), with average high school performance who are the first in their family to attend college, they would succeed with the proper support around them, according to Tracy Green, interim vice president of strategic and institutional development at Lorain County Community College.

“The belief was that if you provide quality education with lots of support wrapped around them, that they could achieve greater performance than if left to the traditional format of high school. So much so that they could actually earn an associate’s degree and a high school diploma simultaneously,”  Green said.

About ten years ago, LCCC was selected to pilot this initiative by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, according to Green. “The results have been fabulous,” Green continued, “Over 90 percent (of participants) go on to college after high school, similar percentages achieve an associate’s degree and high school diploma simultaneously.”

LCCC, now partnered with 25 high schools in the area including Elyria, Lorain, Avon Lake, and Vermilion, has taken this initiative a step further by combining the University Partnership and dual enrollment to lay out a path students can follow to earn their bachelor’s degree.

“If you look at the state average five percent of students earn some college credit before they graduate high school,” Green said. “If you look at that from a national perspective, it’s 7.8 percent. What we’ve done here at LCCC is 20 percent of students who graduate from a Lorain County high school have earned college credit. So we are far outpacing the state and the country,” she said.

Through Ohio’s College Credit Plus program, students can earn credits that appear on both their high school and college transcripts starting in the 2015-2016 school year. This dual enrollment option will be open to students at the beginning of their freshman year of high school.

“We take the strength of dual enrollment that we have, that we’ve been building over the years, and we take our strength with the University Partnership…and we wondered, ‘How can we bring those together?’ So that’s what we’re doing,” said Cynthia Kushner, director of marketing and outreach initiatives at LCCC.

LCCC has taken the state’s new College Credit Plus program and coordinated it with the UP to create degree paths, according to Kushner.

This opportunity provides students to earn their bachelor’s degree by the age of 20 through the UP.

“In many cases, like at Brookside, it actually begins at the high school campus, where you can begin to take college courses at the high school campus,” Kushner said.

My University is what brings the dual enrollment and UP together, Kushner said. This ensures that each student is assigned an advisor, scholarship opportunities, and given access to the college experience.

Kushner said that while LCCC has five of these degree paths mapped out, the hope is to include each bachelor’s degree that is available through the UP.

To participate, high school students must enroll in the program, take the Compass exam through LCCC, and the ACT or SAT, just as any normal pre-college student would. Once that is complete, a student would meet with an LCCC advisor as well as their high school counselor to ensure that all of the requirements are met. Brookside students will then have the option to take these classes at their high school, online, or on the LCCC campus.

This type of dual curriculum is flexible, allowing a student to start when they are ready.

 “What I really love about this program is it’s just as much for that highly motivated student as it is for that one who might begin to blossom a little bit later – maybe not until their junior or senior year,” Kushner said.

All of this comes at no cost to students. The program’s expenses will be split between the secondary institution and the high school. Per the state’s College Credit Plus program, the cost for public high school and public secondary institution must be between $40 to $160 per credit hour, according to the program’s website. Textbooks are to be included for participating students as well. However, students must pay for travel expenses on their own. Currently, only summer classes are not covered – if a student wishes to enroll in summer class, it will be at their own expense.

“This has become the most affordable, highest quality pathway to a degree possible,” Green said.

With 68 percent of Ohioans owning an average of $29,090 of student loan debt (which is among the highest in the country), this type of initiative could certainly help lift the burden to future college graduates.

In Lorain County, over 2,000 students were earning college credit while in high school and LCCC awarded over 21,000 credit hours, saving families over $3.5 million, according to Green.

“That’s at our tuition rates,” Green said. “If they took that at a public university in the state, it would have been well over $10 million.”

The program is expanding into the surrounding area high schools, expecting to add up to ten more schools, according to Kushner.

“The obvious benefits are we are saving a lot of cost and we’re saving a lot of time,” she said. “And I hear this from students personally, all the time. What they like about it is that it builds their confidence. Once they’ve completed the college course and been through it, they now know what it looks like, how it’s different, what the expectations are. Now they know, ‘Hey, I can do this.’ ”