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15 to Start: Giving rural high school students a jumpstart for college

Karina Smith and Adri Ruffing at Mountain Home High School
Karina Smith and Adri Ruffing at Mountain Home High School

Idaho’s “go-on” rate of students going to college after completing secondary school has been dropping, but a new program at Boise State is working to improve that, especially in rural Idaho.
Called 15 to Start, the program lets high school sophomores register for college-level classes at $75 a credit hour. They complete 15 credits — an entire semester — toward their degree by the time they finish high school.

The program “allows for an accelerated pace for college class- es and a jumpstart on college overall,” said Kyleigh Rohrs, a junior at Mountain Home High School.

Making a strong, early connection

While many Idaho high schools offer concurrent credit pro- grams, 15 to Start is different for several reasons. First, it operates in three rural regions: McCall and the West Central Mountains, Mountain Home and Elmore County, and Payette and the Western Treasure Valley — the same regions as the university’s Community Impact Program that makes it possible for high school graduates of any age to earn college credits without leaving home. Second, it includes advising from Boise State to ensure students are taking classes that will keep them on an academic course.
The goal is to get more Idaho students to attend Boise State by connecting them earlier and sooner, said Karina Smith, assistant director for concurrent enrollment at Boise State. “Those 15 credits under their belts make it more likely that rural students will go on to college, whether it’s to Boise State or another school,” she said. “It will increase retention and their confidence that ‘they can do this.’”

Jeff Ulmer is a college and career mentor at Emmett High School, a Title I school where many families struggle economically.

“It’s one thing for me to preach ‘dual credit,’” he said. “But if I can say, ‘This is the first step to being a Boise State student,’ it gives students more incentive to jump on board.” There’s also an element of prestige, he added. His students are able to say, “I’m registered for Boise State, and I’m 15 years old.”

Guidance Gold

Students said they especially appreciate the counseling they receive through the program. Smith advises all 18 students enrolled in 15 to Start’s inaugural year.

“I decided to major in business,” said Dominic Hughes, a junior at Payette High School. “I really believe that everything has a purpose, and this program’s purpose is to guide me into a bright future.” He’s planning to take chemistry, English and business courses through 15 to Start.

“I meet with my advisor — who is amazing — to make sure I keep on the right track,” said Adri Ruffing, a junior at Mountain Home High School. A competitive golfer, Ruffing is planning
to major in health science/nursing and will be taking classes in medical terminology, chemistry and psychology.

It’s not just the students who are enthusiastic about the pro- gram, but parents, too.

“This is a huge help and makes me appreciate Boise State,” said Rachelle Ruffing, Adri’s mom, who is a speech therapist in Mountain Home. The program is keeping the family in Idaho, Ruffing added. “I wanted Adri to start homeschooling so we could move to Arizona and she could golf year-round, but this program is so good that Adri wants to stay in Mountain Home and take organic chemistry.”

With its first year underway, 15 to Start is recruiting more students, Smith said. Plans are in the works to expand into additional rural communities.

More Help For Students

Sophomore Start: This program for students at Nampa, Skyview, Columbia, Centennial, Eagle, Meridian, Mountain View, Owyhee and Rocky Mountain High Schools allows them to earn 30 credits before they graduate and to start college as sophomores.

By Sharon Fisher