Ed-departmentA report from the Iowa Department of Education shows the state leads the nation in the percentage of students under age 18 enrolled in college level courses.

Jeremy Varner of the department’s Division of Community Colleges, says another report shows the number of students enrolled in both high school and community college classes or “jointly enrolled” hit a record of nearly 43,000.

“It is pretty significant, Iowa has some great policy in place that gives students the opportunity to get a jump start on their college education, which saves them money, reduces student debt, provides them a lot of opportunity,” according to Varner.

Varner says Iowa provides opportunities to students across the spectrum. “Many states focus on kind of elite students and giving them kind of a jump on a liberal arts education,” Varner explains. “But we, 42-percent of the courses that are offered are in the career and technical areas. And so Iowa provides students broad access to career tech opportunities as well.” Iowa students enrolled in an average of 7.8 credit hours, or two to three college courses during the 2013-14 school year.

“It’s an opportunity for students to reduce their debt, get a jump on college, maybe get some general education courses out of the way that might help them to reduce their time to degree — or maybe take on a second major,” Varner says. “It also allows students to start down a career pathway in career technical areas, so students can make progress toward a nursing degree or a degree in information technology or something like this.”

There is another advantage for students who take a college course while still in high school. “They get a sense of what college is about before they show up,” Varner says, “so it reduces that shock when students matriculate. They get a sense of what those expectations are, get some success under their belt, especially for first-generation students.”

Students take college courses in three ways: through joint programs at their high school, through colleges where the courses aren’t available at the high school, or by paying tuition on their own to attend. Varner says 88-percent of the students take the college courses through a joint relationship with their high school, which they can take for no cost.