Class monitor Kelli Cash helps senior Laney Coplen with her computer science dual credit class, offered through Murray State University, at Mayfield/Graves County ATC. Coplen expects to graduate high school with 12 college credits due to being able to take dual credit classes. Photo by Amy Wallot, Dec. 10, 2014

Class monitor Kelli Cash helps senior Laney Coplen with her computer science dual credit class, offered through Murray State University, at Mayfield/Graves County ATC. Coplen expects to graduate high school with 12 college credits because of dual credit classes.
Photo by Amy Wallot, Dec. 10, 2014

By Brenna R. Kelly

They may look like high school students, but many of the students at Mayfield-Graves Area Technology Center are already in college. They have college transcripts, ID cards and credit hours.

The students are enrolled in dual credit courses, classes for which they will earn both high school and college credit through West Kentucky Community and Technical College in Paducah.

“What we stress to them is, when we enroll you in this, even though you are taking the class here, you are now a college student,” said Mike Miller, principal of Mayfield-Graves ATC. “We do have good success with the students who sign up; very seldom do we have a kid who does not perform well.”

The school, which serves students from Mayfield, Graves County and Carlisle County high schools, offers dual credit in five subjects. Students pay $50 a semester for up to two of the college-credit classes.

Some students who attend Mayfield-Graves graduate with 15 credit hours – enough that they have finished one semester of college before graduating high school, Miller said. That’s one fewer college semester to pay for and it gives students something that might be just as valuable – confidence.

“A lot of the students in what we call our shop classes have the mentality that ‘I’m just not a college learner,’ ” Miller said, “so I think we help them break down some of those barriers by saying, ‘No, you’re already performing at a college level and you are earning credits already – you can do this.’ ”

State education officials hope that more Kentucky students will be able to benefit from dual credit programs like the one at Mayfield-Graves thanks to a proposed dual credit policy.

Though many Kentucky high schools offer dual credit, access to courses, costs and transferability of the credits vary greatly across the state. The new policy aims to give all students access to at least three dual credit classes, promote quality and rigor in the classes, make sure the classes remain affordable and guarantee that the credits transfer easily to colleges.

Studies have shown that dual credit increases college completion rates and decreases the amount of time and money students need to get a degree.

In Kentucky, the goal is to create a more highly educated workforce that will attract more high-paying jobs to the state, said Education Commissioner Terry Holliday.

“We think dual credit is one of the major opportunities for economic development in the Commonwealth,” Holliday said at a recent Interim Joint Committee on Education, where he presented the policy and financing options.

The policy, which was created by a work group that included KDE, the Council on Postsecondary Education (CPE) and Kentucky Higher Education Assistance Authority (KHEAA), also calls for a Credit Advisory Council to be created to monitor the program.

“We want to make sure every student, whether they are in Pikeville or Paducah, has equal opportunity for access to dual credit courses,” said Holliday, who presented the policy along with Robert King, president of CPE, and Carl Rollins, executive director of KHEAA.

To increase dual credit access, colleges will help more high school teachers become qualified to teach college classes, the policy states. Colleges will also hold an orientation program for all new high school teachers of dual credit classes.

According to the policy, students should be offered three general education classes and three career and technical education classes. School districts and colleges will provide information to students and their families about the benefits of the classes, Holliday said.

The cost of dual credit should be shared by the state, colleges, school districts, and students and families, according to the policy.

“Some students pay zero for dual credit, other students are paying more than $300 per credit hour,” Holliday told the committee.

The policy states that tuition for any dual credit course will not exceed 50 percent of the KCTCS credit hour rate, and the total fees for any course will not be more than $50 a semester.

College credits earned in high school should be accepted at all participating Kentucky colleges as long as the college has the same course that the student took in high school. To streamline that process for career and technical education courses, the state would create a standardized course numbering system for use by all participating career and technical colleges.

Like the fees for students, the cost to colleges varies across the state. Some colleges, particularly those in the community and technical college system, are footing a hefty bill, King said.

Because they offer the credit at greatly reduced rates, Kentucky colleges now subsidize dual credit by $6 million a year, he said. More than $4 million of that comes from the community colleges.

“We think it should be a shared responsibility,” Rollins told the committee, “shared between the parents and the students and the secondary schools and the school districts and the colleges offering the courses.”

The work group outlined seven options for financing, including a line-item in the state budget, allowing the use of SEEK (Support Education Excellence in Kentucky) funds, expanding an existing scholarship program administered by KHEAA and requiring that parents, districts and colleges all pay part of the cost.

Before it can be implemented, the policy would need to be approved by CPE, and any elements that require additional state money would have to be funded by the General Assembly before they could be implemented.

One bill seeking to improve the dual credit program has already been filed in the 2015 session of the state legislature. That bill, filed by Rep. Brent Yonts, D-Greenville, would require the CPE to implement a dual credit policy and ensure the transferability of dual credit for career and technical education courses.

Mike Miller