Ohio’s College Credit Plus program is twofold. Not only does it allow for high school students to earn free college credits, but it also allows for them to get a chance to experience the rigor of a college syllabus without making the commitment of attending a school full time. The program — which begins as early as the seventh grade at some schools — is offered at private schools throughout Northeast Ohio, some of which offer the courses on campus so students don’t have to commute.
“Students are being opportunistic about saving money for college, and if they can bank up six or more credit hours [at St. Edward], it helps with the cost and prepares them for a college-level experience,” says Mark Urban, an English teacher at St. Edward High School. St. Edward is in its sixth year offering College Credit Plus classes through Lorain County Community College, where Urban is an adjunct professor. He also teaches for Cuyahoga Community College, which offers College Credit Plus courses at many area high schools.
According to the Ohio Department of Higher Education, students enrolled in the state’s College Credit Plus program had earned 969 certificates and 2,666 associate degrees as of the 2019-2020 academic year.
“[College Credit Plus] helps students get a jump on their college education for the future,” says Lois Mager, the education coordinator at Hebrew Academy of Cleveland’s Yavne High School. “A number of our students have come back and told us they felt really prepared for their college education because they already delved into classes that were more rigorous and more extensive in their expectations.”
Beyond the Credits
Syllabus day — that first day of college classes when you find out what a course will demand — can be an overwhelming experience for some college freshmen, let alone for high school students.
“Going away to college for the first time can be intimidating for students, and you have to figure out how to level up to the coursework,” says Matthew Stepnowsky, the dean of academics at St. Edward High School. “When students [who did College Credit Plus] go off to college, they have a sense of what it will be like, and they know they have done it before and can do it again.”
Beyond cost savings, the program introduces essential learning and study skills to students before they move to a post-secondary option.
“[College Credit Plus] students get a better idea of what it takes to succeed in college — they learn study skills, time management, critical thinking and writing that is required of college students,” says Heike Heinrich, the executive director of advising and first year program at Cleveland State University. “They have a leg up before they come and are better prepared for upcoming coursework.”
While some students who do a full schedule of College Credit earning classes at St. Edward graduate as fully matriculated college sophomores, Stepnowsky believes the latent learning done through the college classes is as important — if not more important — than any learning done in the classroom. “The confidence level they gain is what is most invaluable, in my
estimation,” he says.
That type of learning can be done on some high school’s campuses as well, as some schools offer their College Credit Plus classes on-site, where students can gain college curriculum exposure in a familiar, supportive environment. At Hebrew Academy of Cleveland, college courses in English composition, calculus, macroeconomics and government are offered to 11th and 12th graders and taught by teachers who earned required credentials that are approved by the participating college. Teachers must submit transcripts with a master’s degree in the subject area they will instruct or earn credit hours in the subject area they’re teaching, Mager says.
“We also have to submit our syllabus and it has to be approved,” Mager says. “We use the same textbooks the college uses in their courses on campus.”
As a College Credit Plus instructor for Cuyahoga County Community College and Lorain County Community College, Urban sometimes acts as a liaison between students and college administrators while also making sure the St. Edward program aligns with expectations.
“We have to make sure we are following their protocols for curriculum building, course management through their learning management system and timely grade reporting,” he says.
When a student’s home school offers College Credit Plus courses on-site such as St. Edward and Hebrew Academy of Cleveland, students don’t have to worry about typical College Credit Plus pitfalls like transportation and midday interruptions to commute to a college location. For some students, finding transportation to a college campus could be a barrier to pursuing the credits.
“If you take a bus or walk to school every day, and don’t have your own car, how will you get back and forth to the college?” Mager says.
The ability to learn on a campus they’re familiar with and from teachers they know is an added bonus.
“We really want our students on our campus,” Stepnowsky says. “We really value relationships and hospitality, and it’s important to have the high school experience, so it’s a nice middle ground when we can work with teachers who are a part of our community but also provide a more collegiate experience to our students.”
A Leg Up On College
Depending on how students are advised during their College Credit Plus years, they can significantly lighten their paid course credit load, Heinrich says. Another real benefit is the ability to explore subject areas without the burden of paying for a college course that a student realizes may not be the right fit. Essentially, it’s discovery at a discount.
“A lot of students change their minds about their majors,” Heinrich says. “A benefit of College Credit Plus is that you really do get to explore. If you come in thinking you are going to be a criminology major and you have a chance to check that out and say, ‘Whoa, this is not the major for me,’ that can save you time because it will make you rethink.”
Another plus is knocking out some basic prerequisite college courses so students can more quickly dive into classes in their major once they reach college full-time. Students can take up to 30 credit hours per year under College Credit Plus. But one downside of the program is that some College Credit Plus courses might not count for credit at private schools and universities.
“Sometimes, credit depends on the students’ success and the college can still dictate based on the grades a student receives in a College Credit Plus course as to whether or not they will earn credit,” Urban says.
Families guiding their children through scheduling should talk to high school guidance counselors about which College Credit Plus courses are taught in-house, expectations on behalf of the high school and college and how to make the most of the experience.
“The biggest questions that parents have about College Credit Plus are often around the relationship between the college and school, how it will work regarding absences, due dates and being on time with assignments and whether credits will transfer,” Stepnowsky says.
Discovering the multiple ways College Credit Plus stacks the deck in favor of students who experience university rigor before the turning of the high school tassel is a crucial journey.
“We’re a big proponent of the College Credit Plus program, and we’re so grateful that the Ohio Department of Education offers the opportunity,” Mager says.