While free or discounted early college credit makes college more affordable, some students in college-level (dual credit) classes never register for the college credit. Why are they missing this opportunity? For low-income students, the belief that college is outside of the realm of affordability can lead to dismissing college as an option without ever looking at actual costs; they assume there is no point in bothering when attending college seems impossible.

Recently, SOU Pre-College staff have broken down this assumption of unaffordability to create a sense that post-secondary achievement is indeed possible for low-income students.  They’ve accomplished this by offering tuition waivers.

Some staff were tentative at first: would offering tuition waivers mean lost income from students who could afford to pay? They knew their challenge was to increase access without driving down income from dual credit programs, as that income pays for the staff and faculty needed to administer these programs and provides funding for classroom materials in dual credit classes. Staff took a deep breath, and jumped in.

Use of tuition waivers started slowly, with only 44 waivers redeemed in 2015-16. The waivers, for students identified as low-income at their schools, reduce tuition to only $5/credit – keeping some “skin in the game” for students and their families. As word spread, confidence in the option grew. This year, more than 200 waivers have been redeemed. Best of all, flat dual credit income levels indicate these are new students – those who otherwise would not have registered for credit. Families who could afford to pay for college credit have continued to do so, while students who formerly assumed college was out of their reach are now electing to get a start on college credit.

This June, 572 high school students all across Southern Oregon will graduate with a total of 8,997 SOU credits already on their college transcripts. Of these seniors, 37 have completed a full year of college (45 credits); 108 have completed 32 or more credits. These students have a head start on college; early college credit correlates with greater persistence and completion of post-secondary credentials. By helping more students to realize that college is possible for them, SOU is helping move the needle on post-secondary attainment. And families are saving money: total value of tuition dollars saved, for these seniors alone, exceeds $1,000,000. With credits in hand, and money in the bank, Southern Oregon’s students are better prepared to succeed in college.

Education is an important social determinant to good health.  SORS is proud of the work being done by our partners at SOU “to promote the health, academic, and life success of our children, youth and families across the region”!