This blog is a guest post by Sen. Steven Thayn.
Idaho’s Advanced Opportunities program reduces the cost of college to students, their families and the taxpayers of the state. The program was a brainchild of Sen. Steven Thayn (Emmett) and Rep. Ryan Kerby (New Plymouth).
While many states help students financially with college classes in high school, Idaho’s program is unique in that the students have access to $4,125 to be used for summer classes, dual credit classes, AP tests, CTE certifications and CLEP tests. The students decide how the money will be used by the classes they take between the seventh and 12th grades. An associate degree can be earned at the rate of $65 per credit and would cost $3,900 paid for by the taxpayer.
Last year more than 50 percent of all juniors and seniors in Idaho took advantage of an earlier version this program earning more than 107,000 college credits and saving $21 million while costing the taxpayer less than $6 million according to Don Coberly, Superintendent of the Boise School District.
The Idaho Department of Education employees Matt McCarter and Tina Polishchuck created a website to manage the program. On the website the student signs up for the class, the local school councilor signs off on the class, and the information is shared with Idaho colleges and universities. The state department of education then transfers the funds to the college or university offering the class.
The funds become available to the students after the sixth grade. Junior high students are encouraged to take high school classes in the summer. In this way, a student on the program can accumulate several high school credits before entering high school which allows the student to take dual credit classes sooner.
The Advanced Opportunities program also allows students to challenge classes. This set up the opportunity for 80 Hispanic students to take the Spanish CLEP test for just more than $90 per test and earn 16 college credits and two years of high school Spanish per student. The ability to challenge classes and for schools districts to still receive funding is helping mold the competency-based efforts in the state.
Taxpayers benefit from the program. A student that graduates from high school with an associate degree only needs to attend college two years instead of four which reduces the cost to the taxpayer by up to $12,000 per student. The savings is made possible because a k-16 education can be completed in two years instead of four years. The students create savings by learning at a faster rate.
Advanced Opportunities has bipartisan support. Sen. Thayn, a republican, has had democrat co-sponsors on major portions of the program. Everyone understands that giving students options benefits students, parents, teachers and taxpayers. It is truly a win-win solution.
Another advantage of the program is that students take ownership of their own education and start thinking about career decisions at a younger age instead of waiting until the day after high school graduation. One Idaho mother, Heather McPhie, wrote:
“For my children, they’ve felt more invested in their own high school education because they’ve recognized that they are not only earning a high school diploma, but they are also on the road to a bachelor’s degree. I’ve seen that these opportunities inspire and motivate them to more diligently pursue education as they are able to directly see how this education is going to help them in their future careers.”