TOPEKA — The top official of the Kansas Board of Regents recommended Thursday the Legislature authorize a pilot program granting high-school students the opportunity to take a free college-level English course.

The initiative would be the beginning of a larger state-financed program that exposes academically qualified high-school juniors and seniors to as many as five introductory college courses at no charge.

“Really, it’s about opportunities for people, but it’s also about our Kansas economy,” said Blake Flanders, president of the state Board of Regents. “If we can start with qualified students, perhaps their junior year, entering into those opportunities, I think it bodes well for the state.”

This 15-credit-hour vision was proposed by Gov. Sam Brownback before his resignation from office in January. At this point, Board of Regents officials indicated the five courses could be American history, English composition, psychology, public speaking and college algebra.

Flanders said the one-course pilot would help the Kansas State Board of Education and the Board of Regents understand student demand, tuition, staffing and territorial issues. The Board of Regents would perform a study of the cost for delivering a dual-enrollment course to a single student.

He told the Senate Education Committee jobs of the future required some form of post-secondary education, whether that involved completion of a welding certificate or a bachelor’s degree in engineering.

“I believe high school right now is almost a false exit point,” Flanders said.

He said the class, for purposes of the pilot, ought to be English composition. Participating students would need a 3.0 grade-point average and to achieve benchmarks on standardized tests. State financial support would be set at $175 per class, he said.

Higher-education institutions wouldn’t be compelled to participate, but the state’s high schools would have to be part of the system to make sure all students had a chance to enroll.

Flanders said high-school students who successfully completed college-level work were better equipped for the rigor of full-time college classes, required fewer remedial education supports and had higher college GPAs, retention and graduation rates.

The state should be working to expand the number of higher-education credentials awarded each year from 39,000 at this juncture to at least 50,000 by 2020, he said. That is a challenge with declining enrollment at community colleges and some state universities from 2012 to 2017, he said.

“I really believe we have to do something differently or we’ll remain on the same trajectory,” he said.