Early College Start – Dual Credit

- Eligible high school students may be allowed to take a college credit course, which will earn college credit and also satisfy the high school graduation plan’s required course.

Trying to find the way through the many alternatives of early higher education can almost cause migraines. Honors class grades and CLEP, SAT II, and AP test results are all viable means of persuading an admissions counselor that a child belongs in the higher-level classes once they reach college. These usually work, but some colleges will not accept certain CLEP test results, or they are skeptical that a mother’s version of an honors class (and maybe even a public high school’s) is not “good enough,” so what can she do? How can a parent make the best choice for her child? Which option yields the best dividends?

My daughter is now an eleventh grader, but she is also in her second semester of taking dual credit—or as called by some, Early College Start (ECS)—classes and is doing wonderfully. Why are dual credit classes such a good option?

PROS

Credit for each course can be earned at the high school and college level simultaneously.

The early college classes are just that—college classes. Once a student takes classes and passes them, those grades become a part of the credits necessary toward earning a college degree, but they can also be added to a high school transcript as credits.

Whereas some colleges will not accept various CLEP test results as acceptable credits, they will usually accept fundamental community college credits as classes taken. Examples of basic classes would be English Composition I and II, U.S. History I and II, and U.S. government. Students can also take elective classes or classes toward a specific degree. For example, a student working toward a computer science degree could take Calculus I and II, introduction to philosophy, fundamentals of programming, C++ programming, and speech.

The quality of education is relatively good.

Having heard many horror stories of liberal professors spewing their jargon and cramming atheism down students’ throats, I was understandably nervous about exposing my little darling to such prejudiced slants on the truth. I was pleasantly surprised to find that textbooks, in our experience, mostly seem to shy away from opinions and exaggerations and instead try to present things in a factual manner. They cover the necessary points and leave the student with a better knowledge of the subject matter. We did have to talk about one short story in the English composition class that basically presented a glazed-over account of adultery as being nothing about which to worry, but I welcome these opportunities so that I can discuss them with my child while she is at home, rather than have her process them alone at college.

My daughter’s teachers have been very helpful, and they responded quickly via e-mail whenever she had a question about an assignment.

Grading is taken seriously.

I was nervous about my daughter being awarded high grades simply based on the fact that she did the work. As most home schoolers would concur, just doing the work is not enough—a student must do the work well with conscientiousness. So far, I have seen the grading requirements of both English I and II and American History I and II. The student must get above seventy percent on all tests, which are taken on campus in a supervised room, in order to pass the class.

There is a variety of subject choices.

The counselors were great at recommending subjects with which to start. I was given a notebook, with a 1½-inch-thick spine, of information on the various classes, what kinds of classes a student should take based on his degree plan, course descriptions, student services, admissions procedures, and testing information—all of which was very helpful.

Driving to and from class is not a necessity.

This was my favorite part. I opted to enroll my daughter in online classes. I would not have to drop her off at school or leave other kids at home to pick her up again, although I did do this whenever she took an on-campus test.

It is highly affordable.

Dual enrollment classes are the same classes that a student would take upon entering college—basic English, history, government, etc. Most dual credit classes are considerably cheaper, and some community colleges even offer them free of charge for students in the tax district. A high school graduate entering, for example, Austin Community College (ACC) would pay $400 for each class, whereas high school students can take these classes for free! (If the student lives outside of the tax district, there is a fee. We paid $40.),
ECS students who reside outside of ACC’s taxing district will be charged a $40 per course fee unless the scheduled class is held on a high school campus. Financial need may exempt students from this fee. For students who reside within ACC’s taxing district, ACC classes are tuition and fee exempt.

One can complete the first year of college while still in high school.

There are three trimesters in each college year, so an ECS student can complete twelve classes over a period of two years. Financially, this could save approximately $2400 of tuition money, not to mention the cost of travel, food, lodging, etc.

CONS

Naturally, with every choice we make for our children, there are always the negative aspects to consider. The main difficulty for me was the first one below.

Parents have no say.

At ACC parents must sign a form stating that they understand they cannot access any information on the student, they cannot talk to the teacher about their child’s performance without the child’s permission, and they cannot speak for the child once the child is enrolled as a college student. Each student is treated as an adult, regardless of his age. I questioned the admissions counselor about this policy, and she said that one child’s parents ruined it for all parents to come—they changed their child’s major from dance to biology, without even informing their child of this change. Granted, if I were the one paying for the classes, I would be relatively upset to find that my money was going toward making my child a prima ballerina instead of the next Nobel prize-winning scientist.

Grades can be forwarded to prospective four-year colleges.

This is a great perk if the student can do the work well, but if ECS is used to fill time or as an experiment, low grades could work against acceptance at a future four-year college. South Texas College (McAllen) comments on this policy:
A student’s final grade in a dual enrollment class, or withdrawing from a class past the deadline, can affect financial aid eligibility and admission to an institution of higher learning upon high school graduation. Students SHOULD NOT enroll in the dual enrollment program unless he or she is committed to meeting the admissions requirements and deadlines as well as passing the class.

The number of classes a child may take per semester may be limited.

Often ECS students may take only two classes per semester, and these classes may only be taken in the junior and senior years of high school. A local admissions counselor said that their youngest student was fourteen and took the ECS classes because she had already completed all of her high school work, but while they would consider younger students, they do not recommend it.

A high school transcript is required.

This is not a negative thing if a parent is highly organized and has recorded the quality of work completed over ninth and tenth grades. I compiled a small portfolio of all of my daughter’s grades, achievements, and work samples, only to discover that all the college wanted was a page of listed credits, but even that was a chore. Parents should check with the college to determine exactly what the college requires on a high school transcript and what denotes an official transcript from a home school student. Some colleges prefer to have home school transcripts notarized, and others simply want the parent’s signature as the administrator of the school.

Not every child can qualify.

Admission to the ECS program is only allowed if the student proves, through early SAT scores or the community college’s admissions test, that he is capable of handling the level of material. For example, according to Houston Independent School District, high school students may co-enroll in Houston Community College based on these criteria:

The rules for dual enrollment/credit are developed by the Higher Education Coordinating Board, and not by TEA. Since the fall of 1998 in order to be eligible for courses awarding dual credit, a high school student must take the Texas Higher Education Assessment (THEA—formerly called the TASP test).

The THEA consists of reading, writing, and math tests, advisement and placement, and developmental education for students who do not pass one or more sections of the test. It is administered by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB). Students in high school may take the THEA after passing the TAAS exit-level exam or may score high enough on the exit-level TAAS or TAKS, ACT, or SAT to be exempt from the THEA.

Students in the graduating class of 2005 may take dual enrollment courses during their junior and senior years if they achieve the TAKS, SAT, or ACT passing standards in English/language arts and/or mathematics (as applicable) as established by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.

Overall, the mothers with whom I have spoken have found that dual credit classes have been a positive experience for their children, and they would recommend them to others.

Endnotes

http://www.austincc.edu/orgref/glossary.php#d

http://www.austincc.edu/ecs/
http://studentservices.southtexascollege.edu/de/guidelines.html

http://www.houstonisd.org/portal/site/StudentSupportServices