Senate Bill 1574 will allow high school freshmen and sophomores to take advanced placement courses for college credit

by: JASON CHANEY - Karlee Hollis takes a quiz in Mr. Raasch's AP U.S. history class.

For years, high school students in Oregon have had the opportunity to earn higher education credits before ever setting foot inside a college campus classroom.

Crook County High School, like many others throughout the state, offer advanced placement courses where seniors can earn college credit prior to graduation. The courses not only give them a head start in college, it provides it tuition-free.

Thus far, Oregon law has limited that option primarily to upperclassmen, but legislators recently passed a new bill that would allow freshmen and sophomores to take advantage of the courses. Senate Bill 1574 passed with unanimous approval.

“I voted for the bill because it gave more opportunities to our kids who use public schools as the basic tool for their education,” said Rep. Mike McLane (R-Powell Butte).

Sen. Doug Whitsett said the idea sounded good to him, and he feels that the ability to take college level courses should be determined by educational status and ability, not age.

“It has the potential to allow students, before they are seniors, to starting getting hooked on going to college,” he said.

Stacy Smith, curriculum director for Crook County School District, said the move helps provides more flexibility for younger students if they are ready for the rigors of college-level coursework.

“It requires additional work,” he noted. “It’s hard. It’s rigorous.”

Smith has not noticed any apparent demand for frosh and sophomore level advanced placement courses, but that does not leave him feeling that such a service is unneeded.

“We do have some kids on an accelerated pace,” he said. “For those rare individuals, it is great to have this flexibility.”

Going forward, Smith hopes for and anticipates an increase in the amount of younger students seeking advanced courses, including those that would earn them college credits.

“We are really working on our culture,” he explained. “We are trying to raise the bar for kids who seem to be self-limiting. As we are successful, more and more kids are going to be demanding opportunities like this – and that is a good thing.”

Although the bill could help some high school students save money on college expenses, it could take away from the money college generate from tuition. The more courses students can take in high school free of charge, the less they have to pay for later.

While that possibility exists, Whitsett does not believe it will prompt much pushback from colleges.

“For the most part, the instruction is provided by the staff at the high schools,” he said, “so it is a very limited out-of-pocket expense for community colleges.”

Smith added that the expanded window for taking college-credit courses could actually increase higher education enrollment, which could in turn boost their revenues.

“I think the perspective of the community colleges is we are finding more ways to attract kids into higher education who normally wouldn’t go,” he said. “I would say, in that perspective, it probably won’t bother them unless there is some flaw that we discover in the system after the fact.”

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