A publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Wayne Lewis: KDE increasing opportunities for student success in college, career and life

One of my top priorities here at the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) is to increase the number and percentage of high school students successfully completing early postsecondary opportunities, such as dual credit, Advanced Placement (AP), International Baccalaureate and Cambridge Advanced International.

These types of opportunities let high school students earn college credit before they graduate. Why do I believe that is so critical? Because research tells us that college students who complete an early postsecondary opportunity in high school are more likely to enroll in college, have a higher grade point average and graduate with a degree than their classmates who did not participate in early postsecondary opportunities.

AP courses are offered in more than 35 subjects, ranging from high-level mathematics and science to fine arts. Students can opt to take a standardized end-of-course exam at the conclusion of each course and if they score well enough on it, their scores will earn college credit at all of Kentucky’s public postsecondary institutions and many other institutions across the state and nation. Although it varies among postsecondary institutions, most Kentucky colleges require a minimum qualifying score of 3 on an AP exam to earn college credit for the course.

KDE, educators, parents and lawmakers have been working to increase access to AP courses for all Kentucky students. For the past two years, the department has set aside funding to help districts cover the costs of taking an AP exam – which is currently $94 – for students who qualify for free or reduced-price meals. During the 2018 session of the Kentucky General Assembly, legislators provided $1 million for the 2019 and 2020 fiscal years to cover AP and International Baccalaureate exams for low-income students.

The effort to open up the opportunity for all students to earn college credit while in high school is paying off. In May 2018, students took more than 50,000 AP exams, with more than 25,000 earning qualifying scores of three or higher – more than in previous years. That translates into earned college credits for which those students and their families will not have to pay at the college level.

Dual credit ­– classes in which a student simultaneously earns both high school and college credit – is another excellent option for students to get a head start on their college or university career. Statewide, nearly 35,000 high school students participated in dual credit courses through a college or university during the 2017-2018 academic year, up 45 percent since the 2015-2016 year.

Part of that gain in students taking dual credit classes can be attributed to the Dual Credit Scholarship Program. The scholarship covers the cost for two courses in either general education or career and technical education. Preliminary data for fall 2017-2018 showed nearly $5.6 million in scholarship funding was distributed for dual credit.

Taking dual credit courses became more affordable in July 2018, when Gov. Matt Bevin signed an executive order expanding the work Ready Kentucky Scholarship to students enrolled in a certificate, diploma or associate program in one of the state’s top five high-demand workforce sectors. Students can use the scholarship each year of high school to cover the cost of tuition and fees for up to two dual credit career and technical education courses.

Depending on their course of study, a student has the opportunity to earn about 30 credit hours – or about half of the hours typically required – toward an associate degree while still in high school with these two scholarship programs.

All of these opportunities – AP, dual credit and others – are critical to our goal of ensuring all students graduate high school prepared to succeed in college, career and life. I ask parents to encourage your children to take advantage of these opportunities. And if your district doesn’t offer many options, work with your school and district leaders to see how you can help expand the opportunities for not only your child, but every child in that school.

Teachers also are instrumental in this work, not only in preparing students to be ready for AP and other rigorous coursework, but also in encouraging students to have the confidence to enroll in these opportunities.

Together, we all can be a part of helping a new generation of students find and prepare for their dreams.

Wayne Lewis is the interim Commissioner of the Kentucky Department of Education

This column originally appeared in Kentucky Teacher, a publication of the Kentucky Department of Education.

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