By 2025, Gov. John Kitzhaber wants all students in Oregon to graduate from high school with at least nine earned college credits.

It's one of many changes proposed in the governor's new Education Achievement Compact that he hopes will replace No Child Left Behind for Oregon schools, and though it is far off, local high schools are gearing up.

In Coos County, many school districts are already close to accomplishing the proposed standard, said Nathan Helland, the coordinator for high school relations at Southwestern Oregon Community College. SWOCC has worked with local school districts to get high school students into college-level classes for more than a decade with an 'Expanded Options" program, he said.

The idea is to help seamlessly transition teens from high school into either a four-year university, a two-year vocational school, or a certification program, he said.

Teachers and administrators agree there is merit to giving students a taste of college early.

'A lot of these kids, their parents didn't go to college," said Mark Lorincz, who teaches Spanish at Marshfield High School. 'They don't have that push to go to college. Having an introduction to college classes -- if it is a positive experience -- can be very valuable."

There are two main ways local high school students earn college credit: taking a dual-credit course at the high school, or taking a college class at SWOCC.

High schools can offer dual-credit classes only if the teacher has a master's degree in the specific field he or she is teaching. The class must be vetted by the college to ensure it meets its standards.

Marshfield and North Bend high schools already offer a wide variety of classes in which students can earn college credit including foreign languages, English, writing, math, sociology, criminology and even welding, construction and physical education.

Welding was the first dual-credit course offered at North Bend more than 20 years ago, said Barney McGrady, who has taught welding there for 35 years. He received his master's in welding at Oregon State University in 1978. Students in his upper-level classes often go on either to vocational schools or into apprenticeships, he said.

Several local school districts, including Coos Bay, North Bend and Myrtle Point, have partnered with SWOCC to bring college professors to the high school to teach dual-credit classes.

'Nine credits is definitely attainable," said Bill Lucero, principal of North Bend High School. North Bend offers 27 dual-credit classes already. To meet the proposed new state requirement, he would make taking a dual-credit course a graduation requirement, he said. 'We're always looking for more opportunities to offer college credit. We're not doing this because we have to, it is what's best for our students."

School districts will pay for students to take classes at SWOCC if they have already taken the most advanced classes offered at the high schools. Generally, students go to SWOCC for advanced math classes, Lucero said.

'It is a great opportunity for the kids," Lucero said. 'We paid for it. They allow us to take their education as far as we can take it."

This enables some students to get very far ahead, he said. North Bend senior Alessandra Hossley has been taking classes at SWOCC since her junior year. By the end of this year she will have more than 70 college credits, which will put her well into her sophomore year of college.

In addition to the many dual-credit classes available at North Bend, Hossley travels to SWOCC everyday to take vector calculus and speech classes.

Hossley plans to attend OSU in the fall and double-major in forest and civil engineering. She says her earned college credits were a by-product of her desire to get ahead in her education.

'It was more about my education and less about the college credits," she said. Although the credits certainly don't hurt. Lucero guesses that by taking college classes in high school, Hossley may have saved close to $40,000 in college tuition and cost of living expenses had she waited to take the credits her freshman year of college at OSU.

But, her decision to begin college in high school has meant a lot of hard work. Hossley begins school each day at North Bend, goes to SWOCC from about 10 a.m to noon, then drives back to North Bend for her remaining classes. After school lets out, she attends track practice until about 6 p.m., then goes home and studies until 11 p.m. or later. On days she has a track meet, Hossley can be seen cramming on the bleachers.

'I will be way more prepared for college," Hossley said. 'At SWOCC they don't teach it like a high school class. You are on your own with homework. You have to keep yourself accountable."

While attending SWOCC during high school is an option for any student, Marshfield High School Principal Greg Mulkey finds that many teens have neither the time nor the means to accomplish it. The student is responsible for transportation to and from the college. Lower income students usually can't arrange the daily transportation, he said.

This, of course, is the main hurdle for all students attending such schools as Coquille, Myrtle Point or Powers, where the commute is unrealistic for a school day.

These smaller districts also offer fewer dual-credit courses, Helland said. Powers has one such class: chemistry. Myrtle Point has two writing classes. Coquille leads the way with art history, geography, Spanish, welding and writing.

Helland said he spends several days a week traveling to Coos County's smaller districts to further their college credit options. Coquille, Myrtle Point and Powers school districts have applied for a joint unified early college grant to pay for dual-credit business and technology classes, Helland said.

'It is manageable for every student to walk away with nine college credits, whether they are career, technical or lower division collegiate courses that will transfer," Helland said.

Reporter Jessie Higgins can be reached at 541-269-1222, ext. 240, or jhiggins@theworldlink.com.

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