Double Dipping on College Credit
Wednesday, April 13, 2016
By Christina Mimms, SAIS
Entering college with a semester’s worth of college credits certainly gives new freshmen some breathing room during a significant life transition. Many students choose to enroll in fewer classes in their first college semester while others opt to get ahead on completing some core requirements. Whether the credits were earned through AP classes or dual enrollment at nearby universities, high schools must seek the best ways to manage this process in a way that allows their students to advance without short-changing their own academic programs.
LaGrange Academy in LaGrange, GA, offered dual enrollment credit to its juniors and seniors for the first time this year. After several parents, including one who is employed at nearby West Georgia Technical College, inquired about the feasibility of students taking college courses, the school decided to pursue the program this year. Students are permitted to take an online course that the school does not currently offer, such as psychology; most students earn their credit through West Georgia Tech. They are required to take screen shots of the work they complete and share those with the teacher overseeing their work.
“When they go to college they likely will have to take an online course at some point, and so far it has been great,” said Head of School Carl Parke. “Teachers and families have been happy with it.”
And so far, there has been no cost to the school or to the families. Students are able to enroll in a course as a public high school student would, so the state pays the fee to the college. That translates to a cost savings for families who will thus pay for fewer college courses.
Goodpasture Christian School in Madison, TN, currently offers three dual enrollment courses: composition, literature, and college algebra, all taught by Goodpasture faculty who are adjunct faculty at local colleges. Students who wish to take one of the courses must apply and meet certain criteria to be approved.
“Students get a feel for the college workload and they begin their college career a semester ahead or perhaps even a year ahead with dual enrollment credits and AP classes,” said Ricky Perry, president of Goodpasture. “It’s also a great opportunity to stretch themselves, and some kids just enjoy the intellectual challenge.”
So if students can take a college course in high school, why bother taking an AP class and sitting through an AP exam? While an AP class is considered to be a college-equivalent course, high schools do not want their students to “skip out” on an AP class for what may be perceived as a less rigorous course through a local university.
Hill Country Christian School in Austin, TX, has allowed dual enrollment credit for about eight years, but on a very limited basis by design. Students may enroll in a class through the community college that is not offered at the school, such as a foreign language or a unique elective. The school has designated many core classes as "identity courses" that students must take from the high school as the content is considered more rigorous than the local community college and more reflective of the school’s mission.
Students may take the college class either online or on campus. Students must regularly report their progress to the dean and they also must submit their final grade. The counseling office maintains a good relationship with the community college as well.
“More often than not it takes more than four years to graduate college,” said Bill McGee, head of Hill Country Christian School. “For ambitious students, the opportunity to earn college credit might save them some money and accelerate their college graduation.”
Valwood School in Valdosta, GA, also keeps a tight rein on its dual enrollment program. “We have been told by admissions representatives from [various] institutions that the appearance of having avoided an AP course which was available at Valwood would not reflect favorably on their college application,” said Head of School Darren Pascavage. For example, the school would not endorse a student to take college algebra at the university in place of AP Calculus at Valwood without fully informing the student (and his/her parents) of the potential impact such a decision could have on prospects for college admission.
Whether students earn credits through AP classes or dual enrollment, when they advance enough to start college a semester or more ahead, couldn’t they just graduate high school early?
That will not happen at Montverde Academy in Montverde, FL, where the school put a policy in place about a year ago to address the issue. After a number of parents inquired about dual enrollments and potentially early graduations, school leaders and the board of trustees crafted a policy to state that once a student enters the 9th grade, he or she must complete four consecutive school years to qualify for a diploma, regardless of the number of additional credits earned through AP courses or dual enrollments, which are permitted on a limited basis.
“We felt the mission of our school, and doing the right thing for our students developmentally, was more important,” said Head of School Dr. Kasey Kesselring. “And we want seniors to experience everything that a high school senior should experience.”
The policy has allowed Kesselring and others at the school to manage parent requests for advanced courses or for their children to skip grade levels more easily. “We’re sticking to a set of principles to avoid going down that track,” he said. So far, only one student has withdrawn prior to senior year, choosing to attend the public high school and dual enroll at a university.
While starting college with several credits already in hand can certainly give new freshman some advantages, completing the full course of high school is even more advantageous, developmentally, socially, and otherwise for a senior who has an entire career and a life of great potential waiting ahead.