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IDAHO FALLS — Options are key to connecting kids to college, says Tonya Tracy. The more options, the better.

“We’re trying to explode the number of choices for students,” said Tracy, a state transition coordinator who works with the College of Eastern Idaho.

Around 320 area high schoolers are currently enrolled in dual credit courses at Idaho’s newest community college, said CEI Director of Institutional Effectiveness Lee Stimpson.

Total dual credit count: about 1,200.

Part of Tracy’s job is to introduce students — and in some cases, their schools — to a range of courses for kids hoping to get a jumpstart on higher ed.

It’s about finding what works best for students, Tracy said.

It’s also about promoting a statewide plan to increase the number of high school graduates pursuing a college degree or certificate. Idaho’s go-on rate has remained flat at around 45 percent over the last three years, despite an ongoing, multimillion-dollar state investment to get more kids to continue their education.

Bridging the gap between high school and college is a key part of the push. The state’s Fast Forward program gives every public secondary student $4,125 to pay for dual credit courses, which allow students to earn both high school and college credits simultaneously.

Students who use the money get access to college coursework at a discounted price of $75 per credit.

CEI, now in its second year, hopes to spread the word about a series of new and continuing dual credit offerings for East Idaho students.

CEI’s 2017 transition to a community college allowed area students to start taking dual credit general education, career-technical and workforce-training courses at its Idaho Falls campus. The college has expanded this option through outreach locations for students in Driggs, Rexburg and Salmon.

Like other state colleges and universities, CEI can also grant college credits through approved dual credit courses at area high schools. Currently, six high schools combine to offer 15 different general education and CTE courses through CEI on their own campuses. These include: Bonneville, Thunder Ridge, Rigby, Hillcrest, Tech Careers and Bingham Academy high schools.

The college also offers technical competency courses tied to six different career pathways — from applied accounting to welding — at Idaho Falls, Madison, Rigby Skyline, Tech Careers and Thunder Ridge high schools.

While on-site courses absorb most of CEI’s dual credit participants, new options have accompanied the new school year.

Students can now enroll in online dual credit courses through Idaho Digital Learning Academy, and 18 available online general education courses taught by CEI faculty.

And if an area school lacks a math teacher qualified to teach dual credit courses, CEI can provide one. The college’s “reverse concurrent” program now allows a CEI faculty member to travel to area high schools to teach dual credit calculus to interested students.

One teacher is already holding a reverse concurrent class at Idaho Falls’ Compass Academy, Tracy said.

Other new dual credit programs include:

  • Courses for homeschoolers enrolled through state-approved online curriculum providers.
  • “Jump Start,” a partnership with the Idaho Falls School District that let’s kids start a 36-credit associate’s degree as juniors.

At least one Idaho Falls student finished her associate’s degree before finishing high school, the Post Register reported in May.

Another student, Belén Muñoz, is on track to complete prerequisites for CEI’s associate nursing degree by this fall. She said over 20 dual credits, earned during her junior and senior years at Compass, saved her thousands of dollars in tuition — and sped up the completion of her degree by nearly a year.

After CEI, Muñoz said, it’s off to Idaho State for bachelor’s degree.

“More students should be more driven to take dual credit classes,” Muñoz said. “This should be talked about more in schools and in homes.”

For Tracy, it all comes back to options: “We just need to help students find the right ones.”

This article was originally posted on IdahoEdNews.org on September 30, 2019

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