It seems like a no brainer — high school students earning up to a year of college credit, which means big savings for students, families and the state.
Students who do so have a year under their belt at a pricey four-year college or, perhaps, halfway to an associate degree at a community or technical college.
"Is it something we want to support? The answer is yes," Commissioner of Higher Education Joseph Rallo said.
However, state leaders are encountering lots of obstacles in the push to expand a practice called dual enrollment, which allows high school students to get credit on both their high school and college transcripts for the same course.
The state Board of Regents, after a months-long study, pledged to hunt ways to make the courses a bigger part of Louisiana's education landscape.
State lawmakers are asking questions.
Last year, the Legislature approved a resolution by state Rep. Chris Broadwater, R-Hammond, that asked state school leaders what is keeping more students from enrolling.
Students certainly have the time, according to figures compiled by the state Department of Education.
Figures show 46.5 percent of public high school seniors do not take a full courseload, with lots of students wrapping up their week by noon Friday. But costs of the extra courses, who pays for them, who teaches them and where they are taught are just a few of the hurdles in the way of expansion.
"The issue comes down to funding," said state Sen. Sharon Hewitt, R-Slidell, the author of the bill last year that sparked the sweeping study by the state Board of Regents.
"It is funding and how do you deliver the best product."
"There is an old political saying," Broadwater said. "The answer is money. What is the question? That is one of the challenges we have."
Public and private students took part in more than 47,000 dual enrollments in 2015-16, according to the latest figures available.
Enrollment was about evenly divided between the state's 14 public universities and 15 community colleges.
That translates into roughly 20,000 high school students, state Superintendent of Education John White said.
But roughly 45,000 high school students meet the Regents' criteria to take the classes.
"It is probably fair to say we are not fully taking advantage of the number of kids who would be interested in dual enrollment and the number of kids who are going to college and could use those credits," White said.
One of the concerns is what students pay.
In some cases, there is no charge. Other schools charge $300 per courses in schools.
Tuition can be up to $800, depending on agreements between schools and colleges.
One out of five students in dual enrollment is charged by the school system, according to data from the state Department of Education.
That alone raises questions.
"It is a tricky issue when parents are paying for courses in public education," White said.
How the product is delivered, as Hewitt said, is another sticking point.
Rallo said the best way to teach students is at a college or for college faculty to do the instruction in the high school.
Access to colleges is an issue, especially for students in rural areas.
Distance learning is a third option.
So are high school teachers doing the work, but that raises questions on whether academic rigor is ensured.
Just because they have taught algebra for 20 years and have a master's degree does not mean high school teachers can handle a college course, Rallo said.
Whether public schools or higher education should handle the costs is another dispute.
The state is spending about $3.7 billion this year for public schools and roughly $1 billion for colleges and universities, including TOPS.
Hewitt said higher education officials question why the state spends lots of money on full-time students who are less than full time.
However, high school teachers expect more money to handle college-level classes. "So there is the issue of stipends," she said.
The state's sputtering in its dual enrollment efforts is similar to Advanced Placement, which also allows high school students to earn college credit.
Louisiana's five-year push to reach the national average for public high school students ear…
Despite a five-year push for a big expansion of AP, the state ranks near the bottom among states in the percentage of students who qualify.
Dual enrollment also has more traction elsewhere.
White said Ohio allows students to overlap their senior year of high school and freshman year of college.
"This is stuff that other states are doing," he said.
Broadwater said the regents' policy of encouraging students to earn college credit is on the mark. "It does not solve the problem of who is going to pay for this," he noted.
On the bright side, the key funding source for dual enrollment could be in for an increase, despite another year of state budget problems.
In a rerun of previous years, public school leaders are gearing up for crowded classrooms, p…
Gov. John Bel Edwards, despite some pushback from school groups, has proposed spending an additional $10 million per year on dual enrollment.
"It allows the students to take more rigorous high school courses and earn college credit, which enables them to graduate from college sooner and thereby reduces their overall school costs for their families and the state," Edwards said in a statement.
"As we work toward stabilizing our budget problems during the upcoming legislative session, this is an investment in our children and Louisiana that pays for itself many times over," he said.
More than 700,000 public school students would face another freeze in basic state aid under …
Whether the governor's proposal happens will play out during the 2017 regular legislative session, which begins April 10.
"That is a bold and strong statement," Broadwater said of the plan.
State education leaders applauded the proposal, with a caution.
Rallo said that, if the $10 million wins final approval, his guess is that "another $10 million would do it."
White made a similar point.
"It is a step in the right direction, but it is not the whole journey," he said. "That is going to have to come through some bigger agreement."