DAYTON, Ohio — A growing number of Dayton-area high school students have gotten an associate degree through local community colleges before graduating from high school.
Sinclair Community College, Edison State College and Clark State College all have seen increasing numbers of high school students graduate with associate degrees in the last five years, through an Ohio program that partners local community colleges with local public high schools and offers college credit courses in high schools, online courses or at the college campus.
The trend is continuing across the state: the enrollment in College Credit Plus, one of the programs that allows students to take college and high school credits simultaneously, grew from 54,053 students in the 2015-2016 school year to 76,601 students in the 2020-2021 school year, according to the Ohio Department of Higher Education.
According to ODHE, the state pays college course tuition, instructional tools, fees and supplies for public high school students attending public colleges to participate in College Credit Plus.
Of the three local community colleges, Clark State College has seen the most dramatic increase: just nine high school students graduated from Clark State in the 2017-2018 school year, but 52 high schoolers will graduate this year with an associate degree.
Sinclair Community College has increased the number of high school students in their version of the program each year since 2015-2016, when 12 students were awarded an associate degree by the end of high school. This year, 69 such students were awarded associate degrees, Sinclair said, and more than 8,100 students were enrolled in the College Credit Plus program for the 2021-2022 school year.
Sinclair Community College spokeswoman Cathy Petersen said the college will continue to increase enrollment in the program.
Edison State’s numbers have yo-yo’d more than at Sinclair and Clark State. In the 2017-18 school year, 41 high school students graduated with associate degrees. That number dropped to 37 in 2018-19, then dropped again to 31 students in 2019-20. It shot back up to 55 students in 2020-21, but only 25 high schoolers earned degrees this school year.
For high school students, the chance to earn college credit can give them a leg up in getting into the workforce after college, or get them further along the path to a bachelor’s degree at a four-year institution, without the debt.
“When a high school student graduates with an associate degree prior to leaving high school, they have earned a credential at no cost to them,” said Naomi Louis, dean for the school of Arts and Sciences at Clark State. “This more easily allows for the pursuit of their dreams at a four-year institution or a two-year institution that offers bachelor’s degrees like Clark State.”
Kaeli Wesley, who attends Stebbins High School and will graduate this spring, recently attained her associate degree through Sinclair Community College. Wesley said participating in College Credit Plus helped her “tremendously.”
“When it comes to opportunities I’ve been given, this one I am truly blessed to say I have received,” she said.