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Dual Enrollment: Free College Tuition?

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If someone presented you with the opportunity to earn college credits for free, you’d most likely take them up on the offer.

Dual enrollment is an often overlooked way for high school students to enjoy free college tuition.

When I was in college, I quickly became friends with another freshman that was in several of my classes … except for English and math. I was surprised to learn that she didn’t have to take English or algebra because she already had taken them at the community college in her home town—during her senior year of high school.

What is Dual Enrollment?

High school students seeking college-level opportunities and the ability to earn college credit should seriously consider dual enrollment, which involves being enrolled in two separate academic institutions—a high school and a nearby community college—at the same time.

A student can simultaneously earn both high school credit and college credit for courses taken through a dual enrollment program.

Surprising Dual Enrollment Statistics

A 2005 study conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics found that 57 percent of Title IV degree-granting institutions had high school students taking courses for college credit during the 2002-03 academic year. Forty-eight percent of those institutions offered dual enrollment programs for high school students taking college courses, while 31 percent had high school students taking college courses outside of dual enrollment programs.

These figures mean that approximately 813,000 high school students took college-level courses during 2002-03, either within or outside of dual enrollment programs.

Cut Costs and Possibly Receive Free College Tuition

Dual enrollment programs have experienced a sudden surge in popularity during the past few years because parents and students see them as an opportunity to cut costs by essentially receiving free college tuition—at least for the courses taken through high school dual enrollment programs.

Dual enrollment is also beneficial to students because it allows them to get a “jump start” on their college careers. In some cases, a high school student may even be able to earn their associates degree prior to their high school graduation!

Four students at East Lake High School in East Lake, Florida currently fit that description.

Dual Enrollment Programs Across the Country

Profiled in the St. Petersburg Times, seniors Tanner Anderson, Dominick Schiavo, Blake Teel and junior Sonny Shamsi are students at East Lake and nearby St. Petersburg College.

Schiavo and Teel will have high school diplomas when they graduate next spring, but they will also receive associate of arts degrees. Anderson will have at least 30 college credit hours under his belt when he graduates from high school, and when Shamsi graduates in 2012 he will also have an associates degree.

This is possible thanks to a collaboration between St. Petersburg College and the Pinellas County School District that gives high school students the ability to participate in one of three dual enrollment programs to earn college credits while in high school.

Larry Webster, the early college/dual enrollment coordinator, says that the program saves a family between $8,000 and $10,000 in college fees. St. Petersburg College waives the tuition and the school district buys the books.

High school students in the early college program spend their final two years of high school at one of the college’s three campuses. They must take at least 15 hours of college courses a semester. High school seniors in the early admission program are allowed to earn at least 30 college credit hours during their senior year.

Illinois Breaking Records in Dual Enrollment

Students in Illinois are also enjoying free college tuition thanks to dual enrollment programs. The Chicago Tribune has reported that a record number of Illinois high school students are enrolled in college courses this fall. Across the state, the number of dual-credit classes offered by community colleges grew 71 percent from 2004 to 2008.

Illinois high schools are increasing the number of dual-credit classes as a way to challenge teens while giving them a taste of college, and the teens are jumping at the chance to earn college credit at a discount or potentially for free.

Dual enrollment credits are “certainly a growing phenomenon," according to Matt Vanover, spokesman for the Illinois State Board of Education. “We’re raising the standard for learning in Illinois. Dual credit plays a component in that.”

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Wondering if dual enrollment programs exist in your neck of the woods?

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Melissa Rhone+

Melissa Rhone earned her Bachelor of Music in Education from the University of Tampa. She resides in the Tampa Bay area and enjoys writing about college, pop culture, and epilepsy awareness.

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