It would be nice if all high school students in Wyoming had the opportunity to take college courses at no cost to them, as a group of educators recommended this week.
But it's highly questionable whether that scenario is practical. And there's certainly no obligation for the state to establish such an entitlement.
After two days of meetings in Casper this week, the Wyoming P-16 Education Council produced that recommendation and others in an attempt to bring uniformity to college offerings for high school students in the state. The council's recommendations now go to the Wyoming Community College Commission, which was charged by the Legislature with developing minimum standards to create a more uniform system and ensure equity across the state.
The state's community colleges enrolled 1,312 high school students in dual-enrollment courses and 5,465 students in concurrent-enrollment courses in 2007-08. Dual-enrollment courses are taught by college faculty on college campuses; concurrent courses are taught by college-approved high school teachers at high schools.
As it stands now, college credit agreements and access vary among high schools and community colleges across the state. Some high school students in communities without colleges or outreach centers don't have access to college courses.
It may seem unfair that accessibility of college courses for high schoolers depends upon where you live. But it's important to keep in mind that college courses for high school students are really just a luxury. When the Wyoming Supreme Court in 1995 ruled that every K-12 student in the state is entitled to a certain level of educational offerings, it did not guarantee equal access to college classes. The ruling only addressed what's needed for students to earn high school diplomas.
The biggest issue with providing the same level of college courses to high school students around the state is cost. That's something the P-16 Education Council didn't address. It's true that there may be ways to deploy technology to reach all students, but it would still be expensive.
Considering the huge financial commitment already made to college-bound students in Wyoming through the Hathaway Scholarship Program, and the high percentage of college students who must take remedial courses, state officials should instead focus on helping high schools do a better job of preparing more students for college. Correcting deficiencies in the state's K-12 system to lift the performance of lower-achieving students is more important than further expanding opportunities for the high achievers.
We also wonder if it's wise to push for uniformity in the eligibility requirements for high school students to take college courses, and in how those students' tuition and fees are covered. For example, dual and concurrent courses are open to students over 16 in Natrona County but only open to seniors in Sheridan County School District 1; and while up to nine credits per student are paid for by the local Board of Cooperative Educational Services for students in Natrona County, such costs aren't covered in all communities in the state.
The P-16 Education Council says high school students shouldn't have to pay for tuition, fees and textbooks for college classes, but doesn't have a plan for who should pay. The Legislature could set aside money in a grant outside of the K-12 school funding model, but that's yet another cost to the state.