SHHS seniors may get to opt for free LBCC degree

Sean C. Morgan

Sweet Home High School seniors may have the choice bypass high school graduation and go directly to college under a program being considered by the school district.

SHHS Principal Pat Stineff presented the program, Accessing College Today, to the School Board Monday night. Under the plan, students could remain enrolled in high school and have School District 55 foot their community college bill the following year.

The program is a win for the School District, college and students, providing cash to the cash-strapped School District, tuition and enrollment to Linn-Benton Community College and no college debt for the student.

The cash isn’t the main purpose for offering the program, Stineff said, although it is a consideration.

“The major purpose is it gives us the ability to help students, who should be going but may not have the means to do so, have access to college, giving them the support to do that,” Stineff said.

The high school already has a program called College Now. High school teachers, who are approved by LBCC, teach classes that count toward both high school and college credit.

Last year, the students earned 1,039 college credits through the program, Stineff said. In addition, they can take advanced placement classes and gain college credit through passing a test.

This program goes beyond high school.

“This would give them an opportunity to go to LBCC,” Stineff said. When they reach graduation, they walk during graduation and attend the SAFE party, but they don’t receive a diploma.

The students would then remain enrolled at the high school and then attend LBCC in the fall.

“They will be working simultaneously on an enhanced diploma,” Stineff said.

The enhanced diploma requires 36 high school credits, she said. The standard diploma requires 24 credits.

Students could graduate with their high school diploma and associate’s degree at the same time, Stineff said.

Under this arrangement, the School District receives payments from the state for the enrolled students. The district pays the tuition and book fees to LBCC, a total of half to two-thirds of the money the district receives for the student.

The district will pay for up to 12 credits per term, Stineff said. “We want to keep it at a number they can handle.”

Stineff also hopes to get home-schooled students involved too, she said.

To qualify, they must be working on an SHHS diploma. They can do so through an on-line program accessed by working with Stineff and high school counselors.

Home-schoolers could start on the on-line program, work on their diploma and head to LBCC as early as 16, Stineff said.

Other districts in the area are trying this program, Stineff said. Lebanon has more than 200 students involved.

Some 75 to 100 students last year told Sweet Home school officials they planned on doing some kind of college after graduation, Stineff said.

“I was talking to a girl yesterday who wants to go to LBCC,” Stineff said. Stineff asked the girl if she had the money to do it.

“I said, let me tell you about this program.”

The student asked what the cons were.

“I can’t think of any,” Stineff told her. She said the girl is enthusiastic about the idea.

“I’d like to get a few of this year’s seniors who don’t have the means,” Stineff said. “I’m very excited about it because I think it’s going to give students an opportunity to go to college even it isn’t within their means. At this point, I see nothing but advantages to it.”

Stineff, who has been principal for 15 years, is retiring at the end of the school year, but she plans to return under special contract to coordinate the program, she said. She’ll work a couple of days per week.

“I’m just not ready to quit and stare at four walls,” she said.