Saving money on college

Iowa Central Community College offers two opportunities for families to save on the cost of their children’s college education; Senior Year Plus Programming and our North Central Career Academy.

In 2008, the state of Iowa created Senior Year Plus as a way to provide increased and more equal access to college credit and advanced placement courses. Courses delivered through Senior Year Plus provide students with the opportunity to take a rigorous college curriculum and receive, in many cases, both high school and college credit concurrently.

Iowa Central Community College’s concurrent enrollment program, Project Earlybird, as well as its other Senior Year Plus opportunities allow for high school students to enroll in eligible courses at or through their area community college. Iowa Central, and the high schools in its nine-county service area (Buena Vista, Calhoun, Greene, Hamilton, Humboldt, Pocahontas, Sac, Webster and Wright), have partnered to offer college courses to high school students at little or no cost to the student.

Most of our high school students are given the opportunity to take these college credit-bearing courses at their high school in which they are taught by their college-approved high school teachers. Iowa Central reviews and approves high school teachers to teach these college courses based on their credentials. If a student wanted to take a college accounting course at their high school, for example, their teacher would have already been approved to teach. This allows the instructor to teach the same course that college students would take on an Iowa Central campus. Last year, 126 high school teachers taught concurrent enrollment (Earlybird) courses at the high schools in our service area. These courses vary from career and technical courses to arts and science options. Students have access to career and technical courses such as automotive technician, welding, agriculture, health science, culinary, manufacturing and many others. There are numerous arts and science opportunities, but our more popular courses tend to be composition, mathematics and psychology.

High school students have also been able to attain these college credits by enrolling in online courses through Iowa Central, or even taking courses on one of our campuses. Iowa Central offers close to 80 courses online via our FlexNet program. Many high school students enroll in our FlexNet courses if a similar course is not offered at their high school.

In the 2016-2017 school year, 2,200 area high school students took advantage of these college credit opportunities. These students averaged seven credit hours of college level courses. Course credits typically range from one to five credits. Students who completed a single three credit hour concurrent enrollment course saved $516 if they were to attend Iowa Central. That same course would cost a student $831 if he/she took it at an Iowa Regent University and would run upwards of $1,140 if he/she enrolled in that course at a private college. Many students who take advantage of these concurrent enrollment opportunities typically complete about 25 credit hours during their time in high school. Taking these credits while in high school would save them $4,300 at Iowa Central, $6,925 at an Iowa Regent University, and $9,500 at a private college in Iowa.

What are the benefits of taking college courses while still in high school? For starters, it saves them a tremendous amount of money! Again, students in our nine county service area are able to take theses courses at little to no cost. A regular, tuition-paying college student would have to pay $172/credit hour, whereas a high school student enrolling in college classes through their high school would pay close to nothing.

Another benefit to taking concurrent enrollment courses is most of these courses transfer well to other colleges and universities. We always recommend students talk with an academic advisor about how a certain course might transfer to a specific college and how the course would apply toward both current and future academic work.

Courses offered through Senior Year Plus programming are ideal for students who are looking for new kinds of intellectual stimulation, and who are eager to challenge themselves academically. These courses, which are offered during regular high school hours, allow students to explore advanced content and experience new kinds of assessments.

Another perk of concurrent enrollment courses is they help enable students to start college knowing what to expect in terms of academics; they are more prepared for college. Students will likely feel more confident as they take first-semester courses since they have already experienced what it is like to take a college class; most of the time even before stepping on a college campus.

Every year, Iowa Central surveys students who are one year out of high school to see if taking Earlybird courses, or any other type of Senior Year Plus programming, played any effect on their current education. One student commented, “The Earlybird classes not only saved me money, but they allowed me to graduate from Iowa Central in a year and then transfer to a four-year university. I’m very grateful that I was able to get so many college credits finished while still in high school.” Another student noted, “I appreciated being able to take the Earlybird classes in high school because almost all of them transferred over to my degree program at Iowa State. It allowed me to have a year’s worth of college completed by the time I arrived at Iowa State. Finally, it helped me to save time and money by not having to take these courses at Iowa State.”

Another way for high school students to limit the amount of debt that they take on during Post-Secondary education is to take part in the North Central Career Academy, located in Eagle Grove. This academy is a partnership between Iowa Central Community College and five community school districts, Fort Dodge CSD, Clarion Goldfield-Dows CSD, Eagle Grove CSD, Humboldt CSD and Webster City CSD, giving high school juniors and seniors access to post-secondary program offerings such as business, engineering technology, teacher academy, liberals arts, manufacturing- machining and manufacturing-welding. The manufacturing strands also develops skills needed in the bio-process technology area.

Each program has an outlined set of classes that students will take where they can earn up to 20 college credits that are transferable to either Iowa Central Community College, or another college or university of their choosing. This one year program alone can save a student between $2,236(13 credits) and $3,440 (20 credits) based on 2016-17 tuition and fees rates. If they wish, students can take two years of the Career Academy, which only increases their savings upon high school graduation. All costs at the Career Academy are covered by the partnership. Each school provides transportation to and from the Career Academy, so there is no reason why a student could not attend if they so wish to.

Another financial incentive offered to successful completers of the North Central Career Academy is a scholarship of $500 that can be used towards their education at Iowa Central Community College. To be eligible for the scholarship, students must successfully complete and pass all required classes of the program, and attend Iowa Central as a full time student after graduating from high school. The scholarship is evenly broken up between the first two semester of their Iowa Central attendance, and the scholarship is not transferable to any other post-secondary institution.

Not only does taking advantage of Senior Year Plus programming and career academy enrollment save students a tremendous amount of money, but these courses challenge and prepare students for college while also being transcribed on a transcript for future collegiate course work. If students are interested in enrolling in college credit courses while in high school, we encourage them to talk with their high school counselor about enrollment and appropriate course options.

Carrie Rock is coordinator of secondary education and Neale Adams is dean of business and industrial technology at Iowa Central Community College.