Vision for free college start in high school outlined

Kansas high school students would be able to earn up to 15 hours of college credit at no cost though a plan under development by the Kansas State Board of Education and Board of Regents, and endorsed in the Governor’s budget proposal for school finance. 

Commissioner of Education Randy Watson and Board Regents President Blake Flanders told a joint meeting of the Senate Education and House K-12 Education Budget Committees Tuesday that final details of a proposal should be approved by the two state boards and ready for Legislative consideration within several weeks. 

The concept is to identify five core courses that would be made available to high school students, offered through community colleges or state universities, and would be accepted by all postsecondary institutions as three credit hours of each course. Funding would be provided by the state through the school finance formula. While taking these courses, students would also receive credit toward their high school diploma. 

The result would essentially be providing the first semester of academic courses at no cost to the student. 

The State Board of Regents has goal of increasing the percentage of Kansans who hold postsecondary credentials, including technical certificates, two- and four-year degrees and advanced and professional degrees. The State board of Education, through its Kansans Can vision, is calling for higher high school graduation rates and higher postsecondary participation or completion within the first two-years after graduation as school district and high school accountability measures. 

Both President Flanders and Commissioner Watson say more students will need to complete some type of postsecondary education to meet Kansas and U.S employment needs, and because employment opportunities for individuals without some postsecondary training are shrinking and provide employees much lower pay. 

The proposal for five free academic courses is somewhat similar to state’s programs for concurrent enrollment in postsecondary vocational courses, passed in SB 155 in 2011. Under that system, high school students are able to take career technical education courses through postsecondary programs at no cost, with state funding provided to technical or community college. The enrollment in and completion of postsecondary technical programs has increased significantly following the passage of that law. 

According to Flanders, following a letter from Senate Education Committee Chair Molly Baumgardner, R-Louisburg, and a report from a task force on first generation students last summer, the Board of Regents adopted a goal of expanding concurrent enrollment in the state. A group of stakeholders representing higher education, school districts and the Legislature has been developing a detailed proposal. 

Here is link to a Facebook Live interview with Dr. Flanders on the program. 

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