Idaho To Allow High Schoolers To Attend College Full Time

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Idaho has become the first state to pass legislation explicitly allowing high school students to attend college on a full-time basis.

The law was described by Sen. Gary Schroeder, the chairman of the Senate education committee, as a move that would allow students to take advantage of college coursework while still in high school.

Although 20 states now have postsecondary-enrollment options that allow high school students to take college courses, many of the programs are limited by funding restrictions, said Kathy Christy, the clearinghouse information coordinator for the Education Commission of the States in Denver.

Idaho was able to go further than most states, said Robin Dodson, the chief academic officer for the state board of education, because state college-tuition rates are low and the board has governance over both K-12 and postsecondary education.

The Senate approved the bill unanimously on March 13 and returned it to the House for ratification. Gov. Phil Batt, a Republican, signed the bill 11 days later. The law goes into effect July 1.

The new law clarifies an existing "dual enrollment" provision in the Idaho state code. Enacted primarily for private and home-school students in 1995, Title 33 allows students to enroll in specific college courses. But until now, high school students have been confined largely to college vocational courses and Advanced Placement courses that provide college credit.

Republican Rep. Wayne R. Meyer, one of the sponsors of the legislation, said it is intended to promote rigorous academic pursuits by providing more options to the state's 11th and 12th graders.

"It's just an advantage for the kids," Mr. Meyer said. "We have students now who are seniors who are only taking one or two required classes. The rest of the day is a waste of time for them."

According to the new law, Idaho's public and private four-year colleges, as well as private two-year trade and technical schools, are now available to high school students as "eligible institutions" for enrollment. The bill also includes provisions for making counseling services available to students before they take college courses.

'Comprehensive' Programs

Mr. Dodson of the state school board suggested that, in the next few years, the law will give more than 2,000 students the chance to "nail a year of college before leaving high school--or two." The bill stipulates, however, that enrollment priority will be given to college students whenever high school students enroll in courses for secondary school credit.

Mr. Meyer said that he and GOP Rep. Fred Tilman, the bill's author, began conceptualizing the legislation by evaluating postsecondary-enrollment programs in other states.

Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, Ohio, Utah, Washington, and Wisconsin provide what the Education Commission of the States considers "comprehensive programs." These are enrollment programs that are provided at minimal or no cost to students and where course credits can be applied toward both secondary and postsecondary institutions.

While Iowa allows students to take college courses, accumulated credits are restricted to secondary school purposes.

Funding Altered

Arizona, Arkansas, Indiana, Kansas, and Louisiana are the five states that currently require high school students to pay the tuition costs of postsecondary classes.

One of the biggest changes to the Idaho law as it made its way through the Senate was how to pay for postsecondary enrollment.

Under the bill's original language, eligible high school students could have elected to take college courses at the expense of their local school districts. The amended legislation lets the local school board determine whether to make full or partial payment or not pay at all. Districts are not required to pay for college courses taken exclusively for postsecondary credit.

By eliminating the requirement that districts pick up the tab for the college courses unilaterally, the Idaho Senate may have averted a controversy similar to one brewing in Wisconsin.

School officials there are criticizing a proposal in Gov. Tommy G. Thompson's budget that would allow students to enroll in college courses at the expense of school districts, even if similar courses are offered in their home high schools. Opponents fear that adopting the proposal could threaten programs in local districts.

In Idaho, where local school boards retain the power to determine how much they will pay for postsecondary enrollment, it remains to be seen how widely students will avail themselves of the program. For now, backers are satisfied with the potential opportunities the bill provides to high school students.

"We got the program instituted," Mr. Meyer said. "Now, we're going to sit and watch, probably for a couple of years. Give it a chance to work."

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