Parents, students and legislators like it, so what's the big fuss about students taking college credit courses in high school? Why are some higher education leaders questioning the quality of the concurrent enrollment (CE) program? Is that the real reason?

Parents worry about the future of their children, and employers worry about having a skilled work force. At a time when there is a decline in college enrollments, and parents and students are searching under the sofa cushions for loose change to pay for tuition, it seems the CE program is a way to alleviate both problems.

As educational policymakers and legislators deliberate the future of CE they ought to learn from the successes of the program. Rich School District's high school, with an enrollment of approximately 146 students, has made it work as a means to help kids move on to higher education and help pay for their tuition. Of the 42 students enrolled in the program, 19 will be eligible for the New Century Scholarships.

Rich High School has contracted with Utah State University to provide the online instructions and professors to teach the classes, as well as online and education materials, and direct broadcast. It turns out that those graduating students provide a ready pool for USU.

The CE program also allows for the students to earn an associate degree that, upon graduation from high school, allows them to show prospective employers and/or educational institutions a level of competence. In addition, the school district works closely with the Bridgerland Applied Technology College for additional job skills training. For the customers — parents and students — it provides a tremendous opportunity.

Duchesne High School — with an enrollment of 202 students — has the only student in the state, Jared Bruton, who scored a perfect 36 on the ACT last October and is part of approximately 27,000 others in the CE program. Orem's Jessica Saliby, a state 2007 Deseret News MVP basketball player with a 3.74 GPA, is to graduate with an associate degree thanks to being able to take CE classes. She hopes to become a nurse. Then there are the faculty members at Weber State University who won the 2008 Exemplary Collaboration award for teaching students through CE the importance of community service and teamwork skills needed to succeed in today's high-skills workplace.

If students are eager to take on college courses, K-12 and higher education administrators should find ways to promote higher learning. It's not about what's good for institutions; it's what is good for students. It's not about seat time; it's about preparing students to make it in today's ever-changing world.

The current CE program's success seems to be that it allows local school districts the control and flexibility to decide how best to help students make the transition to higher education or skills training. They make this readily accessible and customized for each school, as well as affordable for parents, and give students the opportunity and motivation to go on to higher learning. It allows schools the opportunity to do "online shopping" for the best services for their students.

One wonders if the quality of the curriculum and that of the teachers/professors is simply a diversion, when the real problem may be one of protecting turf and money. The responsibility for assuring the quality of college curriculum and of those teaching college credit classes rests with the Board of Regents. It seems education administrators ought to focus on what taxpayers/parents expect of them to make sure our students are being prepared with the education and skills needed for them and the state to succeed in today's economy.

A Utah native, John Florez has founded several Hispanic civil rights organizations; been on the staff of Sen. Orrin Hatch, served on more than 45 state, local and volunteer boards; and filled White House appointments, including deputy assistant secretary of labor and as a member of the commission on Hispanic education. E-mail: [email protected]