Brian Inbody’s smile told the story.

When the Neosho County Community College president smiled five seconds into a pitch for a cooperative agreement between Ottawa High School and Neosho County that could help students earn an associate’s degree while still in high school, Ryan Cobbs said he knew the project was a go.

From that meeting in January, the two entities forged a two-year agreement in May that begins with the 2016-2017 school year.

OHS juniors and seniors who are eligible for the coursework can earn college credits at a fraction of the cost under the agreement called the C3 initiative, Cobbs, assistant superintendent of Ottawa schools, said.

“There will be no payments to Neosho County Community College to enroll in any dual credit course through Ottawa High School, however, course fees still apply which should only include welding, CNA [nursing], and CMA [medical assistants],” Cobbs said. “There will be a cost of $20 per credit hour to OHS students — paid to [Ottawa] USD 290 — for these courses in an effort to help offset the cost of the program.

“We feel that there is some need for students to have some stake in the game, however, in this case it is at an 80 percent reduction in cost per credit hour.”

Cobbs said some of the key points of the agreement are:

• Students will be able to graduate from OHS with an associate’s degree earned through Neosho County.

• The cost per credit hour will be reduced from about $100 to $20, which will be paid to the Ottawa school district instead of Neosho County. Depending on the chosen field of study, an OHS student could earn an associate’s degree for around $5,000 — less than half of what it might otherwise cost, Cobbs and Tina Oelke, the college’s assistant dean of outreach and workforce development, estimated.

• Ottawa school district will pay $53,000 for the next two years to Neosho County for OHS students to have open access to classes being taught for concurrent credit at the high school — with provisions to increase the courses taught at the high school.

Students at OHS were spending about $53,000 per year to take college courses at Neosho County, Cobbs said. The goal is for neither entity to lose money through the agreement, according to the initiative.

The school district would use various revenue streams to pay the $53,000 and is planning to set up a foundation in which businesses, organizations or individuals can contribute funds to help cover the cost for students who cannot afford the reduced credit hour fees.

“We should have it going very quickly,” Cobbs said of the foundation.

Other goals, Cobbs said, of the initiative are:

• Increase the number of graduates who either have become highly trained through a vocational certificate, an associate’s degree, or a bachelor’s degree.

• Open the door for OHS students, who are undecided about their future after graduation, to continue their educational opportunities.

• Use the opportunity to help develop a highly qualified workforce for the community.

• Close the socioeconomic gap of those who can afford to have a college education and those who cannot afford to attend.

For Assistant Dean Oelke, whose office is located on the Ottawa campus, the agreement with the Ottawa school district is in lockstep with Neosho County’s mission “to enrich our communities and our students’ lives.”

Developing a highly qualified, skilled workforce not only benefits students but also facilitates economic development, Oelke said.

Oelke thinks the agreement will work out well for both parties and envisions it extending beyond the initial two-year memorandum of understanding, she said.

The upside for OHS students looking to further their education is enormous, Cobbs said. And the newly created foundation will help the district make this dream a reality for all students, he said.

“We want every student to have access to a rigorous college level curriculum regardless of their ability to pay for these classes.”

Doug Carder is Herald managing editor. Email him at dcarder@ottawaherald.com