In a January 2007 report, “Free College for High School Students,” Yankee Institute Executive Director Lewis M. Andrews calls for Connecticut to grant all students who meet high school graduation requirements within three years either a full scholarship to any state community college or a chance to take college courses while still enrolled in high school. In addition, taxpayers would essentially get a rebate any time a student chooses the college option.
Andrews estimates individual scholarships could be worth up to $5,000 per pupil. He suggests that with per-pupil expenditures in Connecticut high schools nearing $15,000, returns for taxpayers could be huge.
“[S]uch a policy would translate into a $5,000 community college scholarship and as much as a $10,000 rebate for taxpayers,” Andrews writes.
In addition to the financial benefits, Andrews says enabling qualified high school students to move quickly on to college-level work will make use of the time many high school seniors who have already been accepted to college waste as they coast to graduation.
“The best experience for maturing teenagers is an alternative to the current senior year of high school,” Andrew writes. “These students should either take genuine college courses during the senior year or graduate after the junior year and actually go on to college.”
Several states, including Minnesota and Utah, already have programs that allow high school students to take courses at local colleges, and many school districts across the nation offer Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate programs that enable students to get college credits through classes taught in high schools.
The Yankee Institute’s proposal is similar to one from the National Center on Education and the Economy, explained in the 2006 report Tough Choices or Tough Times, which would allow students to complete high school by 10th grade if they pass state board examinations.
Andrews explained his proposal is different from similar programs in place in other states in that its “potential savings are passed on to the taxpayer,” whereas in other programs school districts receive full funding for students even if they are taking college classes exclusively.
George R. Boggs, president and chief executive officer of the American Association of Community Colleges, said he likes the Yankee Institute proposal, especially because he thinks it will help align the requirements of high school and college.
“There’s a growing concern about misalignment between college and high school,” Boggs said. “We know there’s a problem with alignment of standards.”
Boggs added, though, that it’s possible “school districts would not want to give up funds very easily,” a hesitation he said might derail the plan.
Andrews believes his proposal will ultimately catch on with lawmakers because state governments increasingly have no choice but to cut spending and run as efficiently as possible.
“If you talk to people who study the looming deficits, this is something that becomes a real crisis in the next three or four years,” Andrews said. “One of the real attractions of this proposal is that it is a model for the kind of thing that has to happen” for state governments to keep their finances in order.