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Editorial: CCS honors program could earn high marks

Welcome to the super community college.

This fall the Community Colleges of Spokane added yet another option to the already impressive assortment of higher education choices available to students from Eastern Washington.

In conjunction with American Honors, a new Denver-based organization, selected CCS students enrolled in one of five programs designed to accelerate their entry into four-year universities. They are taking advanced curriculums taught by CCS professors trained to teach the material, then attending online seminars to discuss the material with students and instructors in other locations.

CCS is piloting the program because Chancellor Christine Johnson worked with Honors co-founder Chris Romer when he was a Colorado legislator and she was president of the Community College of Denver. Chris’ father, Roy Romer, is a former three-term Colorado governor, former head of the Los Angeles Unified School District, and Honors adviser.

With college costs rising faster than parents’ and students’ ability to pay, Romer says more people will seek a lower-cost alternative. Starting at a community college curbs expenses but, though many universities will admit the student, some majors will not accept all community college credits, forcing the transfers to retake courses they have already paid for once.

Students will pay a premium above community college tuition for Honors credits, but save money when they transfer. An Honors credit at CCS, for example, will cost $150 per hour; higher than the $106 for a standard course, but less than the $181 per hour at Eastern Washington University or $273 at Washington State University.

Unknown, however, is which universities will find the Honors credits acceptable substitutes for those earned on their own campuses. Romer is working with universities all over the country to make that happen, specifically with colleges to which CCS students want to transfer. While he does that, the CCS students are not paying the premium tuition.

Romer estimates it will take three years for American Honors, a for-profit enterprise, to build credibility.

Johnson says enthusiasm for the Honors program at CCS is high considering its newness. The first 48 students were picked from among 232 applicants – CCS enrollment exceeds 17,000 – with exceptional high school credentials.

A survey of the enrollees indicates somewhat mixed perceptions about the quality of their Honors classes compared with others they are taking, but very high enthusiasm for the counseling, and technical and other support they are receiving in conjunction with the program. About 80 percent have raised their higher education goals.

Johnson says all students will benefit from the improved counseling and teaching fostered by the Honors program. The colleges’ five calculus professors, she notes, have agreed to rotate the Honors class so all will get the additional training they can take back to all their classes.

She hopes the college can boost Honors enrollment up to 2,000 students by next fall.

But the performance of the first students will be critical, for themselves, CCS and American Honors. If they can parlay their Honors studies into four-year degrees in their majors, their work will be a credit to all.


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