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The State Department of Education’s Advanced Opportunities Program, which helps students get a jump start toward college and career, offers a worthy example for “state policymakers seeking ways to improve the quality of high school instruction and expand postsecondary access and attainment,” according to a recent report from the Manhattan Institute.

The report, “How Idaho is Reshaping High Schools by Empowering Students,” focuses on Idaho’s program that provides $4,125 for each student in middle and high school to use for college credit via dual enrollment classes at the current rate of $75 per credit. The funds also can be used to cover the cost of overload courses, advanced placement exams and workforce training.

Most states now have laws to enable dual enrollment, but “Idaho’s Advanced Opportunities program has been particularly successful,” the report states. “Idaho’s Advanced Opportunities programis one of the brightest lights of our K-12 education system, and it’s wonderful to receive more confirmation of that success through this in-depth report from the Manhattan Institute,” Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra said.

“Thanks to a strategic investment by state leaders, more than 29,000 Idaho high school students earned college credits last year –in some cases enough to earn an associate’s degree before high school graduation.” Many of those students are from Franklin County.

In the Preston School District students took a total of 522 college courses and 150 advanced career training courses. Those courses were Basic EMT, algebra/trig, government, English, psychology, speech, history, fundamental health professions, academic success, anatomy and physiology, biology, career and life planning, chemistry, introduction to art, macroeconomics, medial terminology, plant science, geology, humanities, music, automated manufacturing, accounting, ag fabrication, advanced ag mechanics and welding, automotive, graphics, and robotics.

“I think the Advanced Opportunities program is one of the best moves our legislature has made in the last 10 years. It effectively eliminates the burden of cost for students who are looking to take advanced courses while in high school and provides a means for students to expand the types of courses they can take.,” said Preston School District Superintendent Marc Gee.

“In addition to taking college and CTE dual credit courses, the funds can pay for certification tests as well as overload classes. This means that if a student wanted to take an extra course via IDLA during the summer, or even take an extra class during the school year, they can do so and the advanced opportunities will pay for the course. For many students this means they are able to overcome some of the limitations we have in a small school district in terms of offering all the classes they would like to take on a schedule that works for them,” he said.

Superintendent Ybarra said it also helps students from low-income families to have the same opportunity to take college-level courses as higher-income peers, “reducing the amount of time and money it takes to earn a degree... This is a major help to Idaho families and moves our students closer to fulfilling their dreams for college and careers.”

Based on the regular per-credit tuition rates of colleges and universities, Idaho students and their families saved more than $84 million in 2019-20 by taking dual credit courses paid by Advanced Opportunities. At $75 per credit, the state’s expenditure was more than $17.3 million – about $67 million less than the full cost would be for those college credits.

“The allocation of finances for advanced opportunities have provided a way for students to earn college credits and CTE advancements that were not possible prior to the allocation of these funds. They truly have benefited 1,000’s of Idaho students. We are very appreciative of the support from the legislature and governor’s office on the matte,” said West Side School District Superintendent Spencer Barzee. Courses are taken by West Side Students each year, allowing many of the high school seniors to enter college as sophomores and juniors.

Supporting Schools and Students to Achieve

The Idaho Legislature approved the current Advanced Opportunities program in 2016, and that fiscal year Idaho was already rated third in the nation for dual credit enrollment. Idaho has been a national leader in offering dual enrollment, according to the National Alliance of Concurrent Enrollment Partnerships.

Enrollment in dual credit courses has skyrocketed, from 16,264 courses taken in 2015-16 to 70,395 in 2018-19.

Manhattan Institute report author Max Eden interviewed staff at Boise, Minidoka, Emmett and Vallivue school districts about how the availability of Advanced Opportunities has changed their schools, including increased college and career counseling services.The report also found:

n Advanced Opportunities, in partnership with the Idaho Digital Learning Alliance, “has leveled the playing field for rural students in terms of courses they can take.”

n Last year’s expansion of Advanced Opportunities to include career and technical education (CTE) has increased the number of students taking professional certification exams.

n “Idaho is the only state that puts money for dual enrollment directly in students’ hands.” Other states reimburse colleges, increase funding to high schools, or provide partial or full reimbursement to students.

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