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Students, Educators Respond to Ohio Governor’s Early College Initiative

Educators, students and parents applauded and raised questions Thursday about Gov. Ted Strickland’s proposal to offer eligible high schoolers free tuition to spend their senior year at college, picking up their high school diplomas and a year of college credit at the same time.

The initiative, called Seniors to Sophomores, would enable seniors at Ohio public high schools to take classes at two- or four-year Ohio public colleges instead of their high schools. The seniors would have to meet the academic standards of the individual colleges.

Strickland introduced the proposal Wednesday during his State of the State speech. His goal is to challenge students, help students who want to accelerate their college education and save their families some money.

“What Ohio is doing is it is losing a lot of its potential capacity because huge numbers of poor students are not pursuing college work,” said Thomas Lasley, dean of the University of Dayton’s School of Education and Allied Professions.

Lasley said the proposal will likely increase the chances of success for all students, but particularly for low-income ones.

“Here’s the downside — paying for it,” he said. “How is the state going to and how are communities going to be able to manage the added costs of having those students complete college work?”

Strickland said the tuition will be paid by combining the student’s state subsidies from public school funding and the state subsidy for college.

Strickland’s wants to roll out the program in the fall, though it initially likely will not be available to all eligible students.

“I feel it’s a great opportunity,” said Susan Moeller, 42, of South Charleston, whose daughters Stephanie, 18, and Mackenzie, 15, attend Northeastern High School near Springfield. “It certainly does help with the cost of college education.”

But she wonders whether her younger daughter — already involved in sports and other extracurricular activities — would have time.

Carl Powell, past president of the Columbus Council of PTAs and parent of a recent high school graduate, said transportation to a college and staying involved with friends and activities back at the high school also would be issues.

“If you’re a senior, you’ve gone to school with these kids for a lot of years,” Powell said. “You know you will leave and go separate ways when you graduate. So it’s a concern whether you leave early.”

Under a similar program, about 12,000 high school students in all grades took some college classes last year. The funding comes from state money that goes to the students’ high schools.

But students don’t take all of their classes at college and might not have a full year of college credit when they graduate high school.

At the Dayton Early College Academy, urban students whose parents for the most part have never attended college, enroll as high school freshman, initially take high school courses and then gradually begin taking college courses at the University of Dayton and Sinclair Community College. Last year, 32 students graduated, seven with associate degrees, and all of them continued their college education.

“There are always kids who aren’t doing what they need to do on the high school campus to be prepared for college,” principal Judy Hennessey said. “Sometimes, just having a taste of college really does motivate them.”

Destin Grayson, 17, is in his fourth year at the school and expects to get his associate degree in the spring. He wants to major in pharmacy and has been accepted at six colleges.

Grayson took his first college class when he was 14, an English course at Sinclair.

“I was intimidated,” he recalled. “I didn’t want to do my writing because I thought it might not be adequate. But I saw I was on the same level as these people.”

Grayson believes going to college as a high school senior is a good idea, as long as the students are prepared for it.

“Some people can’t handle that pressure,” he said. “It helped me establish my time-management skills and it helped my study skills. If you don’t have the skills to do that, it might be a problem.”

–Associate Press

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