TWIN FALLS — A state program that provides money for teenagers to take college classes is getting more popular — and expensive.
In June, the Idaho State Board of Education came up with a series of ideas they may want to propose to the 2018 legislature. One of them: to consider limiting which types of dual credit classes state money would pay for.
That could mean just those that meet college general education requirements, are needed for a technical certification or are needed for a specific college degree a student is pursuing.
It would help align with the overall purpose of the program: helping lower the cost burden for high schoolers and help them earn a college degree faster. And state officials want to boost the college-going rate, which hovers around 50 percent, to help meet workforce needs.
“The program has exploded around the state,” said Debbie Critchfield of Oakley, vice president of the state board. And the state has limited resources for the offering, she added.
For Advanced Opportunities, “is it working the most efficiency as it can?” she said. “Is it accomplishing what we want?”
The board idea from June is a very basic outline at this point, board spokesman Blake Youde said Friday. “We are still very early in this.”
He expects board staff will have ideas fleshed out a little more within the next week or so.
Each Idaho public schooler has a total of $4,125 available to use from seventh through 12th grades.
Money can be used to pay for dual credit classes, overload classes and exams such as Advanced Placement or professional-technical certifications.
Dual credit classes allow teenagers to earn high school and college credits simultaneously.
Across Idaho, about 15,000 students took dual credit classes in 2015 — up nearly 200 percent from 2008.
Critchfield said she has read news reports of costs growing, but the board hasn’t heard a formal presentation on the topic.
“I think the real exciting or positive side about this information is the fact that we have more students than ever taking advantage of the program,” she said.
Dual credit gives students confidence they can complete college-level coursework, Youde said, and they’re more likely to continue on to college and finish a degree.
The legislature’s Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee received information in June about the program costs, Idaho Education News reported.
The approximately $6 million to cover unexpected costs will come out of the Public Education Stabilization Fund, Youde said. “That’s essentially the backstop in case there’s an overrun.”
Whatever the Idaho Board of Education decides about dual credit could affect thousands of students across the state — including right here in south-central Idaho.
In the Twin Falls School District, nearly 30 percent of high school seniors take at least one dual credit class.
And other school districts, such as Jerome, have seen huge growth in dual credit numbers.
Jerome High School counselors work to guide students and parents when choosing dual credit classes, Jerome School District Superintendent Dale Layne said.
The goal is to have students take useful classes that will transfer to meet a general education college requirement, rather than just an elective.
Counselors stress to “not take a credit just because it’s there,” Layne said, but that doesn’t always happen with students.
To keep up with the growth in Advanced Opportunities, the school district recently hired two new full-time employees with new job descriptions for the counseling department. They’ll work directly with students in areas such as dual credit.
The College of Southern Idaho has seen dual credit enrollment explode. High schoolers now make up about 35 percent of the college’s total headcount.
During the fall 2016 semester, CSI had about 2,444 dual credit students enrolled from more than 65 high schools, plus virtual academies. That’s up from 871 students a decade ago.
Jarred Aslett, advanced opportunities senior coordinator at CSI, wasn’t available to comment Friday.
Typically, dual credit classes are taught either by high school teachers or delivered via videoconferencing. And the cost is $65 per credit — about half of what traditional CSI students pay.
Critchfield said she sees both advantages and disadvantages to limiting the types of dual credit classes the state would pay for.
An advantage: “Certainly, we want our students to take those classes that help them at the next level,” she said, instead of those that will count only for elective credit.
A disadvantage: About 70 percent of Idaho’s public schools are in rural areas, Critchfield said. A lack of resources and teachers to offer elective classes can be a challenge.
Critchfield said: “Dual credit courses provide an opportunity for students to be exposed to classes they wouldn’t otherwise.”