Dual degree initiative could speed up higher education

U.S. students may soon have more degree opportunities before they even leave high school.

During his Feb. 12 State of the Union address, President Barack Obama discussed an educational program that allows students to simultaneously graduate with an associate’s degree and a high school diploma. Both Germany and several New York high schools participate in this program; however, area educators are divided on whether the idea can be implemented nationwide.

University President Glenn Poshard said similar options exist for prospective college students.

“We already have those type of programs available,” he said. “We have advanced placement classes, which seniors can take while they are in high school. If they qualify, they get credit for that at the college level.”

While Obama’s idea might increase the number of students with college degrees, Poshard said it probably would not increase university enrollment.

“We still have a great number of students who want the full university experience for four years,” he said.

Mike Dreith, president of John A. Logan College in Carterville, said Obama’s increased high-school efficiency plan can work because he has seen it happen.

“I was in one (program) with my previous job in Texas, where we had some of the students graduate from college the week before they graduated from high school,” he said. “It is entirely possible.”

Dreith said the degree program takes an incredible amount of commitment from the high schools and the students, but it could be used nationwide. However, Drieth doubts the program would prompt a large increase in enrollment at John A. Logan.

“The truth of the matter is, our district is not growing by leaps and bounds,” he said. “I think something like this will marginally improve our enrollment numbers.”

However, Dreith said he is unsure whether area high schools would be interested in pursuing an associate’s degree option.

While several college administrators support Obama’s ideas, several high school administrators said it may take more work before such a plan could be implemented.

Marion High School Principal Steve Smith said the idea is great, but is not practical at this time.

“The problem with (Obama’s) plan, and many of the plans that are discussed at that level, is that it is easy to talk about it,” he said. “Yeah, it’s a great idea, but all these new ideas and new programs that are longer require high schools to increase space and new technology, all while funding is being cut. So it’s just another example of them asking schools to do more with less.”

Smith said Obama’s suggestion is an interesting idea to pursue, but remains a future goal funding-wise. He is unsure if his school would support it now. He said the plan would take a while to implement because Marion High School is focused on common-core initiatives, including national and state education expectations, and it would be difficult to add more programs.

Herrin High School Principal Terry Ryker said the plan could succeed, but high schools and colleges would have to work in tandem.

“I think anything can be implemented … I think there’d be a lot of hurdles and difficulty to overcome,” he said. “You’d have to have a lot of your high schools working closely with, probably, the local junior colleges at the present time to figure out how this is going to work.”

Ryker said it would take several years to fully implement the plan into schools if they choose to adopt it. While Herrin High School would like to adopt the plan, he said, state and federal funding would be an issue.

“I think that’s a huge (problem), especially here in Illinois,” he said. “It’s hard for something more with less money. I mean, I don’t know how that’s going to be practical. We’re going to have to change the way money is allocated and the state of Illinois does not allocate it very efficiently or fairly.”

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