Kansas education officials pressing harder to expand concurrent enrollment

High school students earning early college credit have better prospects of earning degree

Blake Flanders, left, president of the Kansas Board of Regents, says Kansas needs to invest tax dollars to build greater opportunities statewide for high school students to earn early college credit. At right is Bill Feuerborn, chairman of the state Board of Regents. (Submitted/Kansas Reflector)
Blake Flanders, left, president of the Kansas Board of Regents, says Kansas needs to invest tax dollars to build greater opportunities statewide for high school students to earn early college credit. At right is Bill Feuerborn, chairman of the state Board of Regents. (Submitted/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — The two state boards with oversight of Kansas public education plan to more rigorously push for expansion of enrollment and funding of programs allowing high school students to earn college credit.

Members of the Kansas Board of Regents and the Kansas Board of Education meeting Wednesday to discuss issues of mutual interest agreed there was value in broadening opportunities for students to get an early start on college courses.

There has been a 36% increase in Kansas high school students taking introductory college courses in the past five years, but the campaign to make state funding available for all high school students has stalled. There is sticker shock among some legislators to public financing of a three-hour course for each high school student in Kansas, leaving the goal of fashioning a 15 credit-hour package far beyond reach.

Randy Watson, commissioner at the Kansas Department of Education, said students who completed college credit in high school were better able to advance through college. There is a solid return on investment for the students and for the state’s economy, he said, with the most impressive results among high school students who make it through around 15 credit hours.

“Our goal ought to be every student completes high school and three-fourths of them, or not greater, are going on to somewhere post-secondary. If we can get there, those students will drive the middle class,” Watson said.

Randy Watson, commissioner at the Kansas Department of Education, says the state's goal should be to help high school students earn around 15 credit hours of college credit before graduating. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)
Randy Watson, commissioner at the Kansas Department of Education, says the state’s goal should be to help high school students earn around 15 credit hours of college credit before graduating. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

Blake Flanders, president and chief executive officer of the state Board of Regents, said development of a more robust concurrent enrollment platform in Kansas would increase employment security and wages of participating students. Board of Regents reports show 85% of high school students who earned early college credit experienced success in college compared to 63% overall among university, community and technical college students.

In terms of unemployment, he said, the jobless rate is 10 points lower for people who earned a college credential.

“It is something that is very important,” Flanders said. “How can we kind of even the playing field and make sure that everyone has access to these courses? How do we accelerate this?”

During the 2020 legislative session, the Kansas Senate approved a bill that would have permitted K-12 public school districts to pay tuition of students enrolled in college or university classes. That bill didn’t survive, in part, because the session was cut short by the coronavirus pandemic.

Flanders said COVID-19 would decrease 2020 enrollment of high school students in college classes.

In 2019, Kansas students completed 119,000 credit hours through concurrent enrollment. Johnson County Community College was the No. 1 provider with 28,000 credit hours. Hutchinson and Highland community colleges as well as Washburn University each delivered more than 5,000 credit hours of instruction last to high school students.

Daniel Archer, vice president for academic affairs at the state Board of Regents, said during the past decade California, Texas and other states created early-college partnerships that focused on serving underrepresented populations.

These courses are taught by university faculty and the student experience is reinforced by counseling and tutoring to raise the percentage who complete college degrees, he said.

“Essentially, these have got very high success rates,” Archer said. “Looking at national data, minority early college high school students were 10 times more likely to earn a college degree. Then when you just look at low-income, which obviously an issue as well, 8.5 times more likely.”