IOWA CITY — A growing number of Eastern Iowa teenagers are taking both high school and community college courses simultaneously, and even more could begin tapping into that opportunity thanks to a new law making it easier for private school students to do so without paying out of pocket.
Until Gov. Kim Reynolds last week signed the law, students at private schools like Xavier High School in Cedar Rapids and Regina Catholic Education Center in Iowa City who wanted to take community college courses without paying extra themselves had to enroll through a public school district.
The law change removes that requirement by, among other things, expanding the definition of “concurrent enrollment” to include accredited non-public schools.
“I think any time you reduce barriers it’s potentially going to increase participation,” said Kristy Black, dean of regional and county centers for Cedar Rapids-based Kirkwood Community College.
Kirkwood — like most of Iowa’s other 14 community colleges — has seen an increase in high school students jointly enrolled in one or more of its courses. Statewide, the total joint-enrollment head count has swelled 18.6 percent since 2014 to an all-time high of 51,001 students in 2018.
In total joint enrollment credit hours those students are taking, the state has seen a 26 percent five-year jump — with Kirkwood reporting a 46 percent spike over that period and a 10 percent increase since just 2017, the highest in Iowa.
Since 2014, Kirkwood has reported a joint enrollment increase every year, including from 4,959 students in 2017 to 5,354 in 2018, according to figures from the Iowa Department of Education.
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“Concurrent enrollment” allows high school students to enroll part-time in academic and technical coursework through a contractual agreement between their school district and a community college.
Through the agreements, school districts receive supplementary state funding to enroll students in community college courses.
The new law Reynolds just signed, in addition to providing direct access to concurrent enrollment funding for private school students, also increases the amount the state provides for “arts and science” units.
In support of the change to allow students at private schools direct access to supplementary concurrent enrollment funding — without the need to enroll in a public district — lawmakers appropriated $1 million.
Although they’ve added that to the state’s education appropriations, lawmakers expect to trim some from their concurrent enrollment funding for public school districts — assuming private students take the more direct path, negating their need to enroll via public schools.
Officials don’t know whether the change will encourage more private high schoolers to enroll in community college courses. But an estimated 1,525 non-public students attended concurrent enrollment classes through 23 public school districts this year, according to the Legislative Services Agency.
And Iowa has 44 accredited non-public schools that could qualify for state funding for concurrent enrollment.
In the 2016-2017 school year, Black told The Gazette, 128 non-public students participated in Kirkwood’s concurrent enrollment offerings, earning 850 credits, compared with 5,416 public students who earned a total 35,594 credits.
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“I think it’s going to help streamline the process for those non-public schools,” Black said.
And that could continue the trend of high schoolers dipping into college-level offerings early. According to the most recent state numbers, high school students participating in joint enrollment programs accounted for nearly 39 percent of total community college enrollment in Iowa.
In the 2017-2018 academic year, Iowa’s community colleges generated a total of $31.6 million in concurrent enrollment revenue under the funding formula. Kirkwood, serving 41 high schools, generated more than $4 million — second only to Des Moines Area Community College, which served 61 high schools and brought in more than $8.6 million.
“We are very much growing in our area,” Black said.
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