SEBRING - Dual-enrollment courses offer free college credit to high school students, but a new law has school districts searching for a way to cover the costs.
The law, pushed through at the end of this year's legislative session, requires school districts to pay tuition costs for students taking free dual-enrollment courses at state colleges without any additional funding.
The School Board of Highlands County and South Florida State College are discussing the issue.
District Assistant Superintendent of Business Operations Mike Averyt said the impact depends on the number of dual-enrollment courses taken at the college versus the number taken at the high school, which is about a 50/50 split for Highlands County.
School districts will continue to receive funding for the courses taught at the high schools, but colleges will no longer cover the funding of the courses on their campuses.
The change will cost the Highlands district about $165,000, Averyt said.
"That was something that got passed by the Legislature and a lot of the school districts are not happy about it, obviously," he said. "But, we are going to work with the college to amend the inter-local agreement.
"We are going to continue to offer dual-enrollment courses, because that's what is best for kids, regardless if we get funding for it or not."
South Florida State College Vice President of Administrative Services Glenn Little said he and Averyt have been discussing ways to help offset the costs for the school district.
"We're realizing that the impact is pretty heavy on our local school districts so we are trying to work with them to make the cost reasonable, but we haven't finalized anything yet," he said, referring to the three counties the district serves - Highlands, Hardee and DeSoto.
Little noted that some students take one dual-enrollment course while others take three or four at the college, but the total credit hours are equivalent to about 77 full-time students for the fall and spring terms.
The state recognized that colleges were facing expanding dual-enrollment offerings without receiving any tuition or fees, Little said. While some colleges limited their dual- enrollment options, SFSC continued without cutbacks.
"With limited funding from the state and no tuition increase again this year, it's getting harder and harder to fund any program," Little noted.
Dual-enrollment courses are a very appropriate way for high school students to earn advanced credit and get a head start, Little said. It has saved families a lot of money through the years by not having to pay tuition.
"We have had several students who have received an AA degree immediately following their high school diploma," he said. With no cost to them, students received two years of instruction and then went directly to a university after graduating from high school, he added.