IDAHO FALLS, Idaho (KIFI/KIDK) - College of Eastern Idaho (CEI) Early College Programs offer students the opportunity to earn college credits and industry certifications while still enrolled in high school.
Credits earned count toward both high school and college graduation requirements and courses are offered in a variety of subjects. Grades are recorded on a permanent transcript and can usually be transferred toward other institutions for higher learning.
“One thing that we know for sure is that students who participate in early college programs are more likely to go to college, so we really want to help students and provide that pathway and the momentum for them to have the confidence that they need to feel comfortable going on to higher education...There’s something really great about being able to try out a college class, find out that you can succeed, and then you want to do the next one,” Mary Stephenson, director of Early College Programs at CEI said.
All Idaho public high school students are eligible for funding through the Advanced Opportunities Program with minimal to zero cost for the student. Stephenson says the Advanced Opportunities program is a funding model that allows the state to pay tuition for high school students who want to earn college credits.
“CEI offers the programs to students at a reduced rate and then the state Advanced Opportunities Program pays for their tuition to do it,” Stephenson said. “So what that does is it makes the programs really accessible to students from all different means and any student who wants to do it really has the ability to participate if they’d like.”
According to CEI, Advanced Opportunities will cover the entire $75 per credit cost for college classes or $500 per program for non-credit Workforce Training Programs.
“For a lot of people, college is a little bit of an abstract idea,” Stephenson said. “You’re not quite sure how it will work or how it would benefit you. A lot of times, we think that we probably should go but we’re just not sure how that connection is going to happen for us. That’s one of the greatest things about getting students into an early college experience is they really get to see how a college class works and they also get to see how it connects to the other goals they might have in their life.”
High school counselors can work with each student to better understand the program benefits and ensure the student can take full advantage of the program in an effort to meet their future career goals.
“High school students are allowed to do any academic general education course they meet the prerequisite for,” Stephenson said. “Most of our students are working on general education courses like English, math, political science, biology and things like that.”
Stephenson says there are career and technical education programs available to high school students such as the CNA program.
Dual credit programs are college courses taught through local high schools by CEI instructors. High schools often cover the cost of textbooks and the cost is $75 per credit, paid for by the Advanced Opportunities Program.
High school freshmen and sophomores with at least a 3.0 GPA can earn 4 credits per semester and must complete at least one high school level course before being eligible for the program. A recommendation from a school counselor is required for these students to join the dual credit program.
Juniors and seniors with a 2.7 GPA or higher can participate in this program with recommendation from their school counselor. These students can earn up to 10 college credits per semester and can petition for a heavier course load in their second semester.
Students who are at least 16 years old can participate in concurrent enrollment, which involves courses taken on the CEI campus or CEI online concurrently with a student’s high school schedule.
Early College advisors will work with the students to find classes that best work with their high school course load, as well as specific classes offered at CEI that may be a better fit toward their career goals. Students must have at least a 2.7 GPA and be recommended to the program through their high school counselor.
Workforce training is another option for students in search of certification programs that lead to job placement. High school students must be at least 16 years old and recommended by a high school counselor to enroll in these programs.
Stephenson says workforce training was added to the Advanced Opportunities Program last year and includes apprenticeships such as welding.
“We just have lots of different ways that students can participate in the classes so students can find something that fits into their schedule and into the things that they have going on in high school,” Stephenson said.
Dillon Steel is a junior at Rigby High School with concurrent enrollment at CEI through the Early College Program. He plans to study pre med in the hopes of becoming a doctor and is working on getting his associates of art degree right now through CEI. He says he is saving himself one to two years in a traditional college by taking his classes now as a high school student.
“The benefit that I see is I’m getting my high school done and my college at the same time,” Steel said. “And the state pays for my college while I’m in high school so that saves me money and gets me into my work faster.”
On Tuesdays and Thursdays, Steel comes to class at CEI at 7:30am and returns to his high school at noon. This is his first semester at CEI.
Steel says he feels more prepared for college because this early experience has taught him time management and study skills.
“This has helped me learn how to transition from high school to college,” Steel said. “I’m excited. I don’t think it’ll be a big deal for me. I’m already doing it so it won’t be that big of a change.”
He says CEI offers one-on-one mentorship.
“I’ve learned a lot in my classes,” Steel said. “I feel like I don’t struggle as much here, they help me through what I’m doing.”
Steel says there are other high school students in some of his CEI classes but in two of them, he is the youngest kid in class. He says the traditional college students help instruct him when they are placed in student learning groups by the teacher.
“CEI early college program is growing every semester,” Stephenson said. “Our fall enrollment numbers were up 34% so this fall we have about 400 students participating in our classes with CEI, taking about 1,600 credits...All of those students will be saving time and money, which is a really important thing to the student and to their parents.”
Stephenson says once a student is enrolled in the early college program, they also receive all of the benefits associated with being a traditional CEI student. This includes access to the tutoring center, library, bookstore, and cafeteria.
“Not only do we invite them to participate in the programs but we also provide them the resources to be successful,” Stephenson said.
Students can ask their high school counselors about what opportunities are available or call CEI at 208-535-5309.