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College education courses gain in popularity among school districts

At New Bloomfield High School, as in many small rural districts, there are no AP classes. (File)

While the new school year is just underway, some students already are planning for the next level of the educations. In fact, in some cases, planning for college begins in middle school.

Across the country, high school students are in special classes designed to help them do well on advanced college placement tests. Offered by the non-profit College Board organization, AP courses can mean time and money saved later in college.

Tucker Snider is an English-Language Arts teacher who is certified to teach AP courses at Jefferson City High School. He understands the advantage the placement courses provide to high school students. He also knows how fragile the access to those courses can be.

"AP and honors programs, they're often the first thing cut when there's a budget issue,” Snider said.

JCHS currently has 18 instructors teaching AP courses. Last year, JCHS students filled 643 course seats and took 134 AP tests.

"Our students have the ability to choose AP or to choose dual enrollment, where you are guaranteed the college credit, because you pay for it up front," Counseling Services Director Carrie Welch said. Dual enrollment means taking actual college courses while still in high school. JCHS has an arrangement with Lincoln University.

At New Bloomfield High School, as in many small rural districts, there are no AP classes. But that does not mean New Bloomfield students have no opportunity to get the jump on college. A dual enrollment program with Central Methodist University in Fayette allows students in New Bloomfield to take college algebra on line.

"Depending on the course they take, the certainly can get credit at other universities as well,” New Bloomfield High School Principal Jeremy Davidson said. “In fact, most all of them - Truman, MU - will accept our courses. If they don't accept them as a core class, they always accept them as an elective course."

And that’s something parents will want to confirm in advance from any college their students might want to attend.

In any case, state officials say the interest in college placement instruction at the high school level continues to grow. An officials with the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education says just under 12,000 students took AP classes last year. And more than double that number took AP tests.

The upward trend has continued despite the federal government having eliminated dedicated funding, and Missouri no long subsidizing AP exam costs for low income students. When asked if students are paying out of their own pockets, or whether money is coming from somewhere else, DESE Gifted Education Director Denise Farinella said school districts can use Title IV money to fund those low-income students. “But we don't get that detail of what the school districts are actually using their Title IV money for," Farinella said.

JC counselor Carrie Welch says it’s important for families to do their homework. She notes that not all universities give the same level of credit for the same coursework or test scores. She says it is important to do some research before spending money on instruction and testing.

Welch also says the College Board website provides extensive acceptance information on a lot of colleges and universities, adding that it is always a good idea to contact a school directly and early, to avoid being unpleasantly surprised later on.

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