Gov. Gina Raimondo sat down with high school students Tuesday at Providence's Central High Schoolto hear about their experiences taking college courses through a state program known as PrepareRI.
The program, which covers the cost of college courses for public school students, has been touted by Raimondo and others as a way to encourage more students to attend college. It's also seen as a way to give students a discount on the cost of college by allowing them to arrive on campus with credits already under their belts.
The courses come in two categories: They can be taught by high school teachers and offered at the student's own school, an option known as concurrent enrollment. Or the student can enroll in select courses on a college campus, an option known as dual enrollment.
According to a report released Tuesday by the state Department of Education and the Office of the Postsecondary Commissioner, 3,807 students participated in dual and concurrent enrollment courses in the 2015-16 school year, the first year those courses were offered at no charge.
Education officials estimate that represents more than twice the number of students who participated in dual enrollment programs the prior year, when courses were available but not paid for by the state.
Concurrent enrollment, the courses offered at high schools, were by far the most popular choice, representing roughly 2/3 of the courses available. The report found that more than 247 high school teachers received approval to teach the courses, with oversight in most cases from Rhode Island College and the University of Rhode Island.
For students who took courses on a college campus, the vast majority -- 99 percent -- enrolled in classes at the Community College of Rhode Island.
Only a tiny faction of students received less than a passing grade. The state report found that 74 percent of students taking the courses on college campuses earned a B-minus or better. The number was slightly higher, 83 percent, for students enrolling in courses at their high schools.
A little less than half of the students who participated -- 43 percent -- came from urban districts, and more than a quarter -- 29 percent -- were eligible for free and reduced lunch, a common measure of student poverty. Nearly a quarter -- 23 percent -- of the students identified as Black or Hispanic.
Many students -- about 30 percent of those who participated -- enrolled in more than one dual or concurrent enrollment course. Popular subject areas included English, Social Science, World Languages and Science.
The state budget for Fiscal Year 2017 included $1.3 million to continue the dual enrollment program, and state officials said they hope to increase participation among low-income and minority students. They're also hoping to increase the number of courses offered at each high school.
In the last academic year, 95 percent of eligible high schools participated in PrepareRI. The high schools with the largest percentage of student participation were the Academy for Career Exploration, a Providence charter school, the Rhode Island Nurses Institute Middle College Charter School, The Met School, Smithfield High School and Scituate High School.