An Ohio program that lets students earn college credits in high school saved individual families about $4,000 in 2021 while increasing their graduation rates, but those who would benefit the most were still least likely to enroll.
"All of the benefits that come from having credits before you get to college are exponentially beneficial to minority and low-income individuals," Ohio Auditor Keith Faber said. "We need to do a better job promoting it in these communities."
That's one of the major conclusions in an audit released Tuesday by Faber's office on College Credit Plus. The program, which Ohio launched in 2015, lets students in grades seven through 12 take free college courses that also count toward their high school graduation. On average, students earn about 15 college credits, the equivalent of one semester, but some earn enough for an associate's or even a bachelor's degree.
But that only happens if students and their families know the program exists.
In 2021, about 35% of Ohio's graduating seniors earned some college credit through the program (which is different from the Advanced Placement exams). However, 17% of those students were economically disadvantaged even though about 50% of Ohio students meet that criteria. About 5.5% were Black even though they make up 17% of the student population.
And many of the major urban school districts ranked at the bottom of Faber's report for credit hours earned per student. Columbus City Schools ranked 562 out of 602 school districts. Cincinnati was number 534. Dayton Schools came in at 579, and Akron City Schools at 540.
"If we have a tool that helps kids be successful, helps tell them that they can do college, makes them think about college, why aren't we using it," Faber said.
He has a couple of theories.
The first is that students take College Credit Plus classes in four different ways: online, with a certified high school teacher, with a college professor who comes to their high school or on a college campus.
"In my view, the best, most effective CCP programs are the ones that are offered at the local schools for the students," Faber said.
Classes at the high school cost districts less, students perform better when they remain in what Faber called a familiar and "supportive environment," and families don't have to navigate transportation and other logistics for getting their kids to a college campus.
Not every teacher can teach College Credit Plus classes though. K-12 educators need at least 18 master's level credit hours in their subject.
"One of the things I'm going to be talking to my friends in the legislature about is figuring out how we enhance credentialing and encourage high school teachers to participate in teaching CCP...," Faber said. "In most districts, CCP teachers don't get paid any extra."
He'd like to see schools pay these teachers a stipend or enhanced payment the way they do for athletic coaches.
Another challenge is simply a lack of knowledge.
State law requires districts to hold meetings about the program, but "there's no enforcement," Faber said. "We had districts that freely confessed to us that they weren't doing it at all, and there's no sanction for that. Candidly, that needs to end."
He'd also like to see the Ohio departments of Education and Higher Education create a joint marketing campaign and standardized form.
Finally, some districts prefer AP exams or their own programs such as the Cleveland Early College High School.
"The reality is all these programs are going to get more publicity," he said. "But we need more education for everybody across the board."
Anna Staver is a reporter for the USA TODAY Network Ohio Bureau, which serves the Columbus Dispatch, Cincinnati Enquirer, Akron Beacon Journal and 18 other affiliated news organizations across Ohio.
This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: Are students using Ohio's college credit plus program?