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College courses in high school?

POLK COUNTY -- A bill introduced during the 2013 Oregon Legislature would require high school students to earn college coursework in order to graduate.

February 12, 2013

POLK COUNTY -- A bill introduced during the 2013 Oregon Legislature would require high school students to earn college coursework in order to graduate.

Supporters of Senate Bill 222 argue that such a program would increase the number of kids on track to go to college and save them money in their pursuit of a degree.

Detractors, meanwhile, said students shouldn't be forced to take college classes if they're not interested.

"Not every student is on that path," said Dallas School District Superintendent Christy Perry. "They're focusing on passing reading and math tests to graduate.

Christy Perry

Christy Perry

"How do you focus on this when you already have high stakes testing?"

The bill was introduced in mid-January by a bipartisan contingent of lawmakers. Its sponsor is Sen. Mark Hass (D-Beaverton).

The bill would take effect in 2019 and require students to earn at least six credits that qualify for credits at a post-secondary institution in order to receive their diploma.

A state grant program would be created to fund education for teachers handling instruction for these accelerated classes or to recruit faculty from colleges to teach the classes.

Hass said the mandate aspect of the bill is still "up in the air." Should the bill get altered as it progresses through committee, at the very least, it will seek to provide grant incentives per student to entice districts to get more of them enrolled in college coursework.

Mark Hass

Mark Hass

"We will do something to expand the accessibility for high school students to earn college credits while they're in high school at no cost to them," Hass said.

Dallas runs its "Extended Campus" through a partnership with Chemeketa Community College and allows students to take a year of college courses at no cost. Those enrolled could leave with 36 credits in a year.

Perry said between that program and college credit targets already set as part of public school reform by the Oregon Education Investment Board, the six-credit requirement is "unnecessary."

Perry said the bill would amount to an unfunded mandate that could result in districts having to pay for training for teachers of accelerated courses, to ensure credits are actually accepted by colleges.

On the surface, it would seem small school districts, with fewer specialty instructors, would be at a disadvantage.

"I'm convinced we could do this," opined Fall City School District Superintendent Pat Evenson-Brady. "The question is, as always, how much money will we have?"

"It would be an easy thing for us to do with online courses and the expertise of our staff," she continued. "It's difficult if you don't have enough teachers or the money for tuition for those college credits."

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