Henry Co. leaders hope to continue subsidizing high schoolers' dual credit studies, but Frankfort changes prove challenging; superintendent: district backs "college-going culture"

Henry County Local, Eminence, Aug. 31, 2016

HCPS provides help for students’ dual credit classes

With the cost of tuition climbing higher each year, students are taking advantage of more affordable opportunities to earn college credit even before they graduate high school.

Henry County High School offers a variety of dual credit courses – classes that satisfy the state’s requirement for high school graduation and qualify to earn the student college credit for the hours taken. And while the cost of the courses, coordinated through Morehead University, Murray State University and Jefferson Community and Technical College (JCTC), continue to increase, members of the Henry County Public Schools Board of Education want to make sure they remain an attainable option for all their high school students.

Juniors and seniors take dual credit courses at no cost, while freshmen and sophomores are asked to pay only $50 per class. Students attending college fulltime their senior year of high school at JCTC are asked to pay just half the required tuition. All other costs are paid by the Board of Education, subsidized with a small scholarship amount from the state.

Superintendent Tim Abrams explained at the August board meeting that the state legislature set aside $7.5 million to help districts pay for dual credit courses. Of that amount, HCPS was allocated $26,378. With 43 percent of its high school students taking a dual credit course, that leaves a deficit of about $28,622 to cover the cost of providing the classes to all students who have enrolled in them, in addition to the costs parents have been asked to pay.

“We want to develop a college-going culture and stress the importance of post-secondary education. I’m not saying every kid has to go to a four-year university, but in the world we’re in today, some type of postsecondary education is important,” said HCPS Superintendent Tim Abrams. “We want kids to have an opportunity to do that. If we can’t help them pay for it, we’re going to have kids change the route of their future because of money, and I don’t want them to do that.”

Students understand the value in taking the college classes during their high school careers.

Coby Stanley not only wants to get a few courses out of the way now, he knows it is a significant cost savings for the future.

“It’s cheaper here, that’s for sure,” Stanley said. “I’ll be saving some money by taking them now instead of waiting.”

Fernando Smither, who will be the first in his family to attend college, estimates his total savings will be about $9,000. He’ll have taken nearly 30 credit hours by the time he graduates from HCHS. This semester he’s taking psychology, Spanish, English, history and math, even coming in early two days a week for an “early bird” class.

“I’ll have most of my core classes done and start college as a sophomore,” Smither said. “Plus while we’re in high school, we get a little more one-on-one support from our teachers that we might not get in college. It’s extra support to help us transition into college work.”

Developing confidence in their ability to achieve at a higher level of workload is also an objective of the district, among others.

“It makes kids confident they can do college level work while also saving their parents or them money in future college tuition,” Abrams said. “And some are graduating earlier than they would have, some take lighter classloads and graduate on time, others are getting an associates degree even before they graduate.”

Taking college level classes is helping senior Lilly Golden understand what her workload will be like in college. She’s taking college-level algebra, history and English.

“It’s a good transition, even though it’s a lot of work,” Golden said. “It’s getting me better prepared for all the work I’ll need to do in college and it will help me decide if I can take on extra-curricular activities or intramurals, or if I just need to buckle down on my classes. We’re only one week in and I take home a lot of homework already.”

Whether or not the district will be able to continue to subsidize the dual credit courses the students find so valuable for a variety of reasons is uncertain. The total cost not covered by parents of about $54,000 this year will only increase, Abrams said.

The scholarship monies provided by the state come with strings attached. Students can only access scholarship money for nine credit hours over their high school careers. Henry County has sophomores who have already earned nine hours and won’t be eligible for the scholarship money for the last two years of high school.

“We may have to charge parents more next year,” Abrams said. “Most of the districts in the state don’t have this problem and I’ve heard from some that they may have to send some of their scholarship money back. It’s very unusual for a district our size to have so many taking dual credit courses.”

Abrams said one of his options might be to solicit assistance from the community to support dual credit course scholarships or to lobby the state to allow students to use their earned Kentucky Educational Excellence Scholarship (KEES) money to apply to dual credit courses. Currently, KEES monies can only be accessed after high school graduation.

Regardless, Abrams and board members felt strongly that the benefit to students was worth the expense to its general fund.

“One of my objectives when I joined the board was to get these kids on a faster track,” said board member Danney Chisholm.

“It’s money well spent,” agreed board member Harold Bratton.

“We have a lot of first generation college kids in our district, and for some of our kids this makes them very confident they can do college-level work and it whets their appetite to pursue higher
education,” Abrams said. “A high school education shouldn’t be the end, it should just be the beginning for what they are going to do, and we want to do everything we can in our school district to give kids a leg up in that.”

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