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RCC wants college credit to be smarter

Rogue Community College and local school districts are collaborating to expand ways high school students can acquire college credits, while protecting them from inadvertently creating roadblocks toward their higher education goals, including securing financial aid.

Standards are being reviewed to ensure students have the best career pathways and the smoothest transition to colleges and universities for their course of study, said Todd Bloomquist, director of secondary education for Medford School District.

"We want to put students in the best possible light," Bloomquist said Monday. "We want to connect the dots as soon as possible."

Students with too many college-level courses could end up transferring into a university as sophomores or even juniors, which might make them ineligible for certain financial aid benefits, Bloomquist said.

Conversely, as private universities are not subject to the same standards/protocols as state colleges or universities, those institutions sometimes "pick and choose" which course credits they will accept, he said. This can leave a student stuck having to retake classes, which adds cost and time to their college experience, he said.

"In many cases, universities make students take courses over again in college, even if a student already has earned said college credit," Bloomquist wrote in a memo to Medford schools Superintendent Phil Long regarding the RCC collaboration.

"Most disappointing of all, many students are now finding that by earning too many college credits in high school, they are no longer eligible for financial aid when they actually enroll in college. This, of course, is unacceptable," said Bloomquist, who met with RCC officials in September.

The district's current system needs organization, Bloomquist said, adding RCC currently has good pathways to help students achieve their goals.

"We need to help students acquire meaningful college credits," he said.

RCC's goal is to clarify the community college path for high school students, and to ensure all their college credits will transfer to RCC or to a technical school or four-year university, said Kirk Gibson, vice president of academics for RCC.

"We see a variety of ways to partner and provide clear pathways into college," Gibson said. "We're working with 17 high school district partners. Each school has its own style and flavor. Our main challenge is to expand ways for students to participate in college while they're completing their high school diploma."

Showing students that taking a certain algebra or geometry course will benefit them in their goal of entering a professional or skilled trade helps their education, he said.

"They can see the practical application for that class," Bloomquist said. "It suddenly makes more sense."

Staff from both institutions will work together to ensure students in Medford high schools who take particular classes earn credit toward a Career Pathways certificate (12-44 credits), a two-year associate's diploma or a degree at an Oregon public college or university, Bloomquist said.

Medford will better coordinate with RCC and SOU in dual enrollment, in which students are enrolled in both high school and college for the same class, he said. Staff will be trained in the dual curricula programs, ensuring they understand and can explain to students curricula guidelines and licensure requirements, Bloomquist said.

A "Middle College" program will be made available to high school students at the end of their sophomore year. The classes will be taught to juniors and seniors by Medford, RCC and Southern Oregon University instructors, Bloomquist said, and will help students better track toward their career choice.

"Students will take core classes that count both for a Medford diploma as well as for an RCC AA degree or Pathways certificate," he said.

Students also will take elective classes for their chosen area of study at Medford and RCC campuses, Bloomquist said, adding the program is modeled off one already operating successfully in the Shasta Unified Secondary School District in California and at Chemeketa Community College in Oregon.

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 541-776-4497 or email sspecht@mailtribune.com.