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An Easier Transition From High School to College

By Reyna Gobel

In Oregon, a fifth year of high school equals a free year of community college.

For some students, moving from high school to college is an overwhelmingly big step — so much so that they end up not making the transition. A fifth-year high school program in Oregon is making the path to college easier by allowing students to complete their first year of college at local community college satellite campuses, with extra support from advisers at their high school.

The best part? That first year of college is free, with the state covering the cost of tuition and textbooks.

To offer this free year of higher education, high schools and community colleges have to work together. The state pays the school districts for each fifth-year student, based on the high school’s average daily attendance — about $6,500 per student. The district then uses that money to pay the community college for the student’s tuition and textbooks.

For about seven years, Chemeketa Community College in Salem, Ore., has partnered with the Dallas School District in Dallas, Ore., to offer the fifth-year program.

We caught up with Abby Hoffar, Chemeketa’s dean of high school partnerships, to find out how the program has evolved over the years.

Why did the program start? Oregon is trying to fulfill its 40-40-20 goal, in which 40 percent of Oregonian students earn bachelor’s or advanced degrees, 40 percent earn associate degrees or certificates and all students earn a high school degree or equivalent. The goal is based on President Obama’s “North Star” goal, in which the United States would have the highest percentage of college graduates in the world by 2020.

“The top 10 percent of students were going to go to college anyway,” says Hoffar. “We want to help the middle 75 percent.” All students take a mandatory college preparedness class, and advisers help students enroll in the program and monitor their grades.

Who is eligible for this free year of community college? “We have an open door policy,” Hoffar states. All students can participate, but they have to meet guidelines, such as a minimum 2.0 GPA, to continue.

About one-third of eligible high school students in the Dallas School District choose the fifth-year program. Students’ tuition is covered, and they receive vouchers to purchase textbooks at the college’s bookstore.

Where do students take classes? Regional community colleges run satellite campuses at sites near each high school campus. If they want, students can also take classes at the main campus of each community college.

“Every year, courses change at satellite campuses based on what students are interested in taking,” Hoffar says.

How has the program changed over the last few years? “We do more front-end advising, starting with orientation,” Hoffar says. The college advisers communicate with high school counselors to make sure students are taking the high school courses that will best prepare them for college. Once students start their college courses, advisers stay in touch with students to ensure they have access to all necessary resources, such as transportation and tutoring.

Does your college have a partnership with its local school district? Tell us about it in the Comments.

Reyna Gobel

is a contributor to the 21st-Century Center.

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