High school students get jump on college with dual credit programs
When Harrison Hynes begins his college tenure at the University of Kentucky this month, he has no doubt he’ll be ready. The 2018 LaRue County High School graduate—whose parents are Nolin RECC consumer-members—already has more than 15 college credit hours under his belt, thanks to dual credit opportunities at his high school.
“I know what to expect when I take a college class now,” says Hynes, who took dual credit courses in English, anatomy, chemistry, public speaking and psychology on-site at LaRue County High School, while working toward his high school diploma.
Dual credit “allows students to save time and money, since they are able to earn college credit for a fraction of the cost while they are still in high school,” says Hynes’ teacher Summer Garris, a Farmers RECC consumer-member who has taught dual credit English courses at LaRue County High for the past nine years. “It also gives them an opportunity to acclimate to the rigor of college coursework and helps them develop essential study and critical thinking skills.”
Making College Affordable
The idea of dual credit isn’t new. Some school districts in the state have been offering dual credit options—classes that satisfy high school requirements while earning college credit—for nearly a decade or more.
But since 2016, when Gov. Matt Bevin announced the creation of the Dual Credit Scholarship Program—which allows every Kentucky high school student to take two dual credit courses without cost—the popularity of dual credit has soared. About 17,000 of the roughly 49,000 students in the Kentucky 2017 senior cohort—amounting to 35 percent of last year’s senior class—completed at least one dual credit course, says Kiley Whitaker, an academic program manager with the Kentucky Department of Education, which helps oversee the state’s dual credit programming in partnership with the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education.
Now legislated by the state, dual credit guidelines also stipulate that tuition be capped at just one-third of the rate of standard Kentucky Community and Technical College System tuition for any of the 36 participating higher education institutions in Kentucky—20 public and private colleges and universities and all 16 locations in the KCTCS system. This means once students have exhausted their two-course Dual Credit Scholarship, they can enroll in additional dual credit courses and pay only about $162 for each three-credit-hour class.
To put that savings in perspective, standard in-state tuition at Western Kentucky University could be $1,300 or more for an equivalent three-hour course, says Dewayne Neeley, who oversees WKU’s dual credit program, which includes an expansive offering of online courses available to students statewide. “I think the financial savings is a huge benefit of the program for students and families,” Neeley says.
Easing Access to Degree Paths
Across the state, dual credit programs are offered in an array of settings: online; in traditional high schools; or on campus at area tech centers, community colleges or other nearby higher education institutions.
Some specialized programs—like the regional iLEAD Academy based in Carrollton, which focuses on career pathways and technical education—allow students to take all of their junior and senior year coursework on a college campus.
iLEAD junior Noah Cammack, Owenton, whose father, Tim, is an Owen Electric employee, will take all of his classes this year and next at Jefferson Community and Technical College, Carrollton campus. He plans to ultimately earn an associate degree while studying engineering with a focus in robotics as well as biomedical sciences. “It’s a great opportunity to get all these college credits racked up before I even leave high school,” says Cammack. “I’ll be more prepared for going to college, and I’ll already have two years out of the way.”
In Elizabethtown, the Hardin County school district’s new Early College and Career Center, known as EC3, offers a centralized facility where students from all three of its high schools can pursue dual credit learning opportunities—some taken on-site and some at nearby Elizabethtown Community and Technical College.
Senior Erica McClain, a Nolin RECC consumer-member, says Hardin County’s Academy at EC3 program will enable her to graduate high school with 60 credit hours from ECTC, offering a “very good transition to prepare for a four-year college. It’s a way to teach us independence and to be reliable and accountable for our own work.”
Naiya Sims is just beginning the EC3 program and says it will give her an advantage when she goes on to college. “Personally, I want to go into the medical field,” she says. “And having the opportunity of EC3 will help me move up in my college career. It’s an amazing opportunity with a vigorous program that will help me understand what college courses will actually feel like.”
EC3 Principal Dan Robbins says that while dual credit classes are similar in rigor to an advanced placement class, they can be a more desirable option for some students, since they don’t make earning college credit dependent on passing a single test, as with the AP exam. “There are a lot of students who are poor test takers, or who may have anxiety with testing. And with dual credit, unlike AP, students have a full body of work, taken over an entire semester, that their grade is based on,” Robbins says.
Breaking Down Barriers
Students in Eminence Independent Schools’ Early College Program are able to take college courses on campus at Louisville’s Bellarmine University—a partnership that has helped make college attainable for students who might otherwise have felt it was out of reach.
Prior to launching dual credit initiatives, less than 20 percent of Eminence Independent’s graduates earned a college degree. But of the 250 students who have graduated from Eminence’s Early College Program since it launched in 2012, all except one have either earned their four-year degree or are still pursuing one. “We are 70 to 80 percent first-generation college students. It’s a population that could be vulnerable, but they are seeing huge success,” says Eminence Independent Schools Superintendent Buddy Berry. “It’s taking a lot of mystery out of college. And they know if they can do it at Bellarmine, they can do it anywhere.”
Harmony Little, KCTCS’s director of career pathways, agrees. Dual credit is “particularly beneficial for those students who maybe didn’t think they were college-bound, helping them understand that they can do it,” she says. Plus, the early exposure to college courses offers students a supportive environment in which to try a particular career or tech pathway—a great way to see if they might be suited for a vocation in a particular field.
On the academic side, dual credit courses that fulfill college general education requirements—such as freshman English, college algebra, communications and social sciences like psychology or sociology—tend to be the most popular. For students pursuing career and technical dual credit options, pathways including welding, automotive, industrial maintenance, manufacturing, nursing and electrical have been the most in demand, says the state education department’s Whitaker.
Students interested in pursuing dual credit should begin by talking with their school counselor, who can advise them on the programs that may be the best fit, says Robin McCoy, comprehensive school counseling program coordinator at the Kentucky Department of Education.
While dual credit can be a great option for many, it’s also important that students choose courses carefully and weigh their readiness to do well, since the grades will become part of their permanent college transcript, Little advises.
But for students who are ready, dual credit can be just the opportunity they’ve been looking for to soar. Annie Miller, a 2018 graduate of Apollo High School who participated in the Daviess County Public Schools Early College Academy, found time to earn not just one, but two associate degrees from Owensboro Community and Technical College while still in high school.
This fall, she’s beginning her first year at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, pursuing a degree in computational biology. “No one looked down on us for being an early college kid,” says Miller, whose parents are Kenergy consumer-members. “The professors were excited to teach us, and we were excited to learn from them.”