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Bill would have Utah high school students pay for college credit

Published February 29, 2012 1:54 pm

SB284 • Universities can no longer afford concurrent enrollment, sponsor says.
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Utah high school students and their families would have to pay for college-level credits, long offered for free, under a bill headed to the Senate floor.

SB284 is needed because Utah colleges and universities can no longer afford to provide concurrent enrollment instruction for free, according to sponsor Sen. Stephen Urquhart, R-St. George. He cited letters sent to school districts by Utah State University and Utah Valley University, indicating they may have to limit their concurrent offerings.

Over the objections of Gov. Gary Herbert, the Senate Education Committee unanimously endorsed the bill, along with companion legislation to create college-ready assessment tools to help high school identify gaps in their learning.

Urquhart proposes allowing universities to charge up to $30 per credit hour, which could potentially raise $5.5 million. That means students would pay as much as $90 for a three-credit course that costs University of Utah students $600.

"That's a phenomenal scholarship. The full $30 is still a fraction of what it costs," Urquhart said. "In higher education the model is, people pay. Any student can take these courses [for free]. If they want college credit they might have to pay for it."

The $30-per-credit charge is based on what students pay to get AP credit.

Charging anything, however, could undermine the efforts to have two-thirds of Utah adults holding some level of post-secondary degree or technical-trade certification, argued Cristine Kearl, the governor's education advisor. Exposing low-income and ethnic minority students to higher education is key to reaching that goal.

"If you have students asked to pay additional fees toward these courses, it will price a lot of students out of participation," she said. "You'll have classrooms where one student can afford to pay the tuition, but the other students, because they live in poverty, don't get the college credit. We see this as discriminatory."

While concurrent enrollment has critics, policy makers laud it, saying the program prepares students for college and speeds them toward graduation.Last year, more than 26,000 high school students earned nearly 186,000 credits through concurrent enrollment, according to the Office of Public Instruction.

If SB284 becomes law, the state's six early-college high schools, which serve low-income groups and rely heavily on concurrent enrollment, could take a hit.

Stephen Jolley, principal of Intineris Early College High School, a West Jordan charter school associated with Salt Lake Community College, predicted such schools would see enrollments reduced by half.

"We are bringing higher education to people who have traditionally not been served. This would prevent us from serving those students," he said. "Let's not take programs that are working and cut them off."

Three-quarters of Intineris' seniors graduate with associate's degrees and 40 percent are first-generation college students, according to Jolley. The school's graduates exit with an average 48 hours of college credit, saving their families $7,000.

Another provision of SB284 would require the Utah System of Higher Education to create a curriculum that can be delivered to high school students throughout Utah. The state's public campuses are already working on a general-education program called TICE, for technology-intensive concurrent enrollment. The first six courses will be launched this fall, with another six in the works.

New amendments to SB284 would bar universities from charging for TICE courses or for "gateway career and technology education courses."

The Utah System of Higher Education supports SB284, while the State Board of Education has yet to take a position.

bmaffly@sltrib.com

Concurrent enrollment

Utah is a leader in the movement to enable students to earn college credit while still in high school. Last year more than 26,000 high school students earned nearly 186,000 hours of college credit for free. Lawmakers laud the program because it prepares students for college and speeds them toward graduation. But it's financially unsustainable, according to the sponsor of a bill that would allow universities to charge students up to $90 per course.