High Schoolers Make Up Growing Proportion of Oregon Community College Enrollment

At five of Oregon’s 17 community colleges, the teens made up 20% or more of their enrollment.

Freshmen head to classes at McKay High School in Salem. High schoolers make up a growing proportion of overall enrollment in Oregon Community Colleges, according to state data. (Amanda Loman/Oregon Capiital Chronicle)

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The proportion of Oregon’s community college enrollment made up of high schoolers has grown in recent years, and many aren’t taking classes on a campus. 

Overall, community college enrollment has plummeted in the past decade, but in 2021-2022 enrollment rose 3% and then grew another 4% in 2022-2023. High school students enrolled in community college classes made up nearly one-third of that growth. 

At five of the state’s 17 community colleges, high schoolers enrolled in college credit classes made up 20% or more of the colleges’ headcount during the 2022-23 school year, the most recent year of Oregon Higher Education Coordinating Commission data.

Many of the high schoolers enrolled in community college classes are taking a college-level class in their high school, taught by a high school teacher. Nevertheless, the colleges still collect tens of thousands of dollars from the state by counting these students in their enrollment. High school teachers instructing the classes often do not receive extra pay, or are paid a stipend by the school districts, according to interviews with community colleges, districts and a representative of the state’s largest teachers’ union, the Oregon Education Association. 

State data shows that more than 26,000 high schoolers accounted for 14% of the more than 193,000 students enrolled in classes at the state’s community colleges in 2022-23. That proportion is double what it was in 2010. Though both high school and adult enrollment have fluctuated over the years, high school enrollment in community college has remained far more stable than adult enrollment and, in recent years, was slightly higher than it was a decade ago. The number of adults enrolled in recent years was about half of what it was a decade ago.

And it’s not just in community colleges. Between 2011 and 2021, high schoolers taking dual-credit classes through a state four-year public university increased from more than 3,500 to more than 8,900. The number grew during the pandemic while most Oregon universities saw their overall enrollment drop.

Pathway to College

Jim Pinkard, the higher education commission’s director of postsecondary finance and capital, said dual enrollment for college credit on campus or in high school is positive for students, high schools and community colleges. Once graduated from high school, students are on track to finish college sooner and are spared from paying full price for general education courses at post-secondary institutions.

“We’re trying to encourage students who know from a young age that they want to go to college to get a four year degree,” Pinkard said. “If you know from a young age you want to be a doctor, a nurse, a lawyer – if we tell you how you can start as a junior or senior in high school and get the basics out of the way – that’s one or two or three classes you don’t have to pay for later, and hopefully it lowers the cost of your degree.”

Pinkard acknowledged that disparities exist in who is dual enrolled in college coursework. A 2023 report from the commission found those enrolled are disproportionately white and female. Latino students are especially underrepresented among those dual enrolled.

And the share of high schoolers taking college-credit courses through five of Oregon’s community colleges was much higher than at others. At Blue Mountain Community College, Klamath Community College, Clackamas Community College, Columbia Gorge Community College and Lane Community College, high schoolers made up about 20% or more of the total enrollment. Blue Mountain Community College in Pendleton had one of the largest shares, with dual-enrolled high schoolers accounting for nearly 30% of its enrollment.

Financial arrangements

Oregon is unusual in how it calculates per-pupil funding to community colleges, according to Pinkard of the Higher Education Coordinating Commission. Other states provide funding based on the cost to deliver a program. In some states, cost weights are used to reimburse colleges for students taking a welding course at a higher rate since that program costs more to deliver. In Oregon, community college funding per-pupil is based on the number of what's considered a "full-time equivalent" student.

When it comes to high schoolers dual enrolled, the state takes the number of hours each student spends in college-credit bearing classes, adds it up, then divides by 510 – the length of instructional hours over three terms for a student considered enrolled "full-time."

Ultimately, the state sends about $6,300 per full-time equivalent student to the colleges. 

The school districts and colleges also have financial agreements over how much a student should pay in fees per credit, how and when college instructors should mentor and collaborate with the high school teachers and how credits should transfer. Some high schoolers aren’t charged additional fees, while some pay $30 to $50 per credit. 

But each college-credit class that an Oregon high schooler enrolls in contributes to the college’s funding. Put it this way: If 20 students are taking a college-level, dual-credit biology course for one hour every day for one term at their high school, a class that's instructed by a high school teacher, the state calculus equates it to a bit more than 1,100 hours of instruction. The state divides that by 510 to reach the determination that it should fund the community college to the tune of about two full-time equivalent students. So that one dual-credit high school class brings about $13,600 to the college.

Because students are attending the class at the high school, the district also gets to count the student toward its enrollment, so districts don't lose any of the per-pupil funding they receive annually from the state school funding formula: about $13,800 per student, on average. Some community colleges work out revenue sharing agreements with the schools to give the public school teachers some of the higher education funding from the state, but some don't. 

"Their cost in instructing that student is de minimis if they’re not paying that high school instructor," Pinkard said. 

The bulk of students from Pendleton High School in east Oregon who receive dual credit through Blue Mountain Community College take their classes at the high school, with a high school teacher. The high school does not get any extra money for that, and teachers do not get any additional compensation, according to Matt Yoshioka, director of curriculum, instruction and assessment at Pendleton High School. 

Blue Mountain does pay for the high school to employ Mandy Oyama, a college and career counselor, and it pays for faculty to mentor high school instructors and help administer courses and grading. The rest of the extra money Blue Mountain gets from the high school enrollment goes into its general fund, according to the college’s president, Mark Browning. 

Browning said the college is spending money to make to dual enrollment work, not raking it in. Between paying for college faculty to mentor high school teachers and develop courses, providing transcripts and accreditation, the costs add up, he said.

“Whatever the HECC sends us does not cover the cost of instruction for our students. Take the total number of credits we teach, divided by $17.4 million – what our total budget is – that's what the cost of instruction is,” he said. This year, according to Browning, HECC appropriated $4 million in per-pupil funding to Blue Mountain.

Browning said Oregon is far behind other states like Washington and Idaho, where the state government pays for dedicated post-secondary education options in high schools. In both Washington and Idaho, the state pays for the instructors who teach these college-credit courses in the high schools, and it pays for the staff who train teachers, develop courses and coordinate everything on the college’s side.

“In Oregon, we're just doing it all out of hide,” Browning said. “There are ways to do it better.”

Pinkard agreed that overall the deals between colleges and high schools for dual credit aren’t wildly lucrative for the colleges, but he said, they help subsidize the college's other programs, such as adult basic education classes in math and reading that cost as little as $25 per credit at most community colleges. 

“Most of them are not making a helluva lot of money on it,” Pinkard said. “But, there must be some that are making enough, because otherwise they wouldn’t be doing it.

Oregon Capital Chronicle is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Oregon Capital Chronicle maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Lynne Terry for questions: info@oregoncapitalchronicle.com. Follow Oregon Capital Chronicle on Facebook and Twitter.

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