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Doors opening for Ohio students

The Independent
Posted Jun 18, 2008 @ 10:40 PM
Last update Jun 19, 2008 @ 01:45 PM


Walls are coming down and Western Stark County students can be among those to take the first steps over the rubble and pave the way for Ohio’s future.
That’s the plan anyway.
Wednesday, Ohio Board of Regents Chancellor Eric Fingerhut visited Kent State Stark to continue a discussion about Ohio’s educational future, his 10-year strategic plan for achieving academic success and how it all relates to Stark County.
For starters, he said, there’s the state’s newest initiative, the Seniors to Sophomores program.
When Governor Ted Strickland announced the program – one that would allow students to earn enough college credits their senior year of high school to have sophomore status their first year of college – in his State of the State speech, Ohio residents responded enthusiastically.
“People stood up on their feet and they were cheering,” Fingerhut said. “I think they felt that Berlin Wall between the higher and primary and secondary education was coming down.”
Fingerhut, along with many high schools, colleges and universities, still stands behind the program, saying that educational institutions at all levels need to work closely together for the success of the next generation. But as the dust settles on the announcement, some concerns are coming to the surface.
Tamie Eynon, an academic advisor with Kent State Stark, was concerned Seniors to Sophomores offers pie crust promises to potential college students. Students could earn as many as 12 college credits through Seniors to Sophomores.
“Twelve hours will not make you a sophomore,” Eynon said. “These students could come in thinking they can graduate in three years, but it will take them four years to complete (their course work).”
Fingerhut acknowledged those concerns, noting that the program is still being developed. There is no set way to approach Seniors to Sophomores, he said. It is designed to allow all 49 participating public school districts to apply a program that will work best for their students. In the end, the only goal is to expose high school students to college courses and raise the bar for student achievement in the process.
“It’s one of things where the rising tide raises all the boats,” Fingerhut said.
Massillon, Jackson, Perry, Fairless and Dalton have all been selected to participate in the Seniors to Sophomore program in its first year.
Joe Rochford, vice president of the Stark Educational Partnership, said even if the program earns a potential college student only one semester of college credit, that is still one semester of experience and course work students and families will not pay for. He pointed to existing post-secondary agreements between colleges and school districts in Stark County as proof Seniors to Sophomores could make a difference. Those existing programs provided $4 million worth of college education at no cost to families.
“That is very real money to the taxpayers and to the students,” Rochford said.
Thelma Slater, a Stark County resident who has worked 65 years in the public educational system at all levels of education, worries that thousands of adults in Stark County who have not graduated from high school or received their GEDs will be forgotten as Ohio moves forward.
Dr. John O’Donnell, president of Stark State College, agreed that colleges and universities need to become more accessible to this population. In Stark County last year, 400 adults received their GEDs. This past spring, another 500 earned their high school diploma equivalents.
Stark State, both years, saw only 30 of those students enroll.
“We need,” O’Donnell said, “to turn that around and reach out to those students with high potential.”
Fingerhut’s ultimate goal is to encourage adults and non-traditional college students to begin looking at college as a place where they belong and thrive. Without a bachelor’s or master’s degree, Ohio residents will not be able to compete in the changing global economy. Locally, colleges, universities and adult education programs need to find new and creative ways to reach the adult populations because they are keys in Ohio’s educational and economic successes.
“There can’t be enough front doors,” Fingerhut said. “As long as the door you walk out of has that degree and those skills you need to be successful,” it doesn’t matter what front door you use.

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