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Access to college courses in high school promotes early success

Date: Thursday, March 9, 2023

In only their first year out of high school, Southwestern Community College students Osten Blevins and Aiden Evans are already set to graduate with their respective associate degrees this May. How is this possible, you ask? Easy. It’s a combination of individual hard work, ambitious career pathways and opportunities provided through Iowa’s top-notch concurrent enrollment program.

Simply put, concurrent enrollment allows students to enroll in college-level courses while still in high school and earn both college and high school credits simultaneously.

"Osten Belvins"
Osten Belvins

Blevins, 19, started taking electrical technology courses from Southwestern Community College (SWCC) during his junior year at Clarke High School in Osceola.

“I wanted to do something hands-on,” he said. “Sitting in a classroom or office is not my forte. Taking the electrical technology courses weren’t just lectures from a book. They were hands-on, with one-on-one time with instructors, and turned out to be something that I really liked.”

Opportunities to earn college credit while still in high school can help students explore potential career paths and expedite their pursuits toward industry credentials, a diploma or degree. Additionally, high school students participating in concurrent enrollment courses can get accustomed to the rigor and expectations at the college level, which can encourage them to enroll in further higher education and training after graduation. The best part of all of this is that students are able to experience concurrent enrollment and its benefits for free.

“Nearly every school district across the state provides some level of opportunity for students to access concurrent enrollment courses,” said Jennifer Rathje, Senior Year Plus consultant for the Iowa Department of Education. “Tuition costs are covered through contractual agreements between community colleges and school districts, which can open doors for high school students to get ahead and earn college credits and potentially even a degree before graduation.”

For Blevins, the cost savings provided through concurrent enrollment were an advantageous part of the program.

“It was free through high school, which definitely helped,” he said. “I probably saved around $7,500 in tuition.”

Many other high school students are taking advantage of this no-cost opportunity, too, making Iowa one of the top states in the country in the percentage of high school students enrolling in community college courses. In 2021-22, over 50,000 high school students enrolled in one or more concurrent enrollment courses through Iowa’s 15 community colleges, which represents a 5.8 percent increase from the previous year. In fact, high school students represented nearly 43 percent of community college enrollment overall.

“Iowa has been committed to providing concurrent enrollment opportunities for students,” Rathje said. “The partnerships between school districts and community colleges offer students opportunities to learn and explore careers at a higher level.”

"Aiden Evans"
Aiden Evans

The Summer College Credit Program (SCCP) is one of Iowa’s successful concurrent enrollment opportunities. It allows students in grades 9-12 to take college courses during the summer. Eighteen-year-old Evans participated in SWCC’s welding courses all four summers during his time at Creston High School through the SCCP. The variety of classes that were offered during the SCCP piqued his interest and provided a pathway toward an early degree.

“Every summer when I went back, I ended up taking a different class, whether it was blueprint, wire welder, stick welding,” he said. “When I got out of high school, I had finished a whole year of college credits during those four summers.”

The SCCP is provided through a $600,000 state appropriation and other individual support through community colleges, which provides tuition and other cost savings to students and their families. Evans’s father, Levi Evans, recognized the benefit of SCCP and encouraged his son to take advantage of the opportunity.

“Not only did this give Aiden something to do during the summer and give him some life skills, it’s free.” he said. “Aiden is one of my seven kids, and this will help him shoulder some of the cost of going to college.”

Aiden Evans currently works as a welder for a local employer and knows that it will provide support while he pursues his dreams of becoming a pharmacist at the University of Iowa next fall.

“After graduating with my associate degree, I’m planning to go to school to become a pharmacist,” he said. “Being able to work as a welder will help me earn money and support myself while going to school.”

Like Aiden Evans, Blevins also has big dreams for his life after graduation from SWCC this May.

“I’m going to pursue a journeyman electrician license and master license,” he said. “This will take four to five years to complete. I already have the required 2,000 hours in the classroom through SWCC, and I will need to complete 6,000 hours on the job. Once I get more experience, I may start my own company.”

Concurrent enrollment in Iowa has provided valuable opportunities to students like Blevins and Evans. And parents across the state, like Levi Evans, are grateful and encourage other families to participate.

“It’s helping kids get a start on their degrees while in high school,” he said. “It’s an opportunity you wouldn’t want to pass up.”