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College Credit in High School

High schoolers who earn college credit now can save time — and tuition — later.

Is your high school junior or senior motivated and academically ambitious? Are you (and who isn’t?) looking to trim college tuition expenses? If you answered yes to these questions, why not explore ways your teen can start earning college credit now?

Dual enrollment programs — in which high schoolers take college courses and earn credit — expose bright students to a subject or level of study not typically available in high schools.

Online dual enrollment

Digital dual enrollment is a natural progression for technologically savvy schools. Here’s how it works: A local or state college — take the University of Delaware — opens select online courses to qualified high schoolers. In-state juniors and seniors register through their public high schools and complete the coursework on their own time. UD dual enrollment currently costs $620 per course, a substantial discount from the going in-state college student rate of $1,323 for a typical three credits.

UD’s digital offerings this fall include Intro to Social and Cultural Anthropology, Human Heredity and Environment and Economic Issues and Policies. These courses target a younger audience with study skill exercises specifically designed for high schoolers and additional professor Q&A sessions. Although digital enrollees don’t get the traditional campus experience, online instruction still challenges them to do college-level work and offers the opportunity to earn credit early and more affordably. 

Campus-based dual enrollment

For high school students interested in a tangible taste of college life, UD also offers campus-based dual enrollment, as do Burlington, Camden and Gloucester community colleges in South Jersey.

Penn State has successfully instituted dual enrollment at all of its campuses (click here and search specifics by campus location). To be considered, high schoolers submit a “non-degree” application, bolstered by parental permission and written support from their guidance department. A student can take no more than eight credits per semester, and only three high schoolers can be enrolled in a given course at the same campus. Erica Pulaski, associate director of enrollment management and retention at Penn State Abington, reports that this fall, 14 high school students (including home-schoolers) from six districts will take courses at this suburban Philadelphia campus.  

Campus-based dual enrollment presents practical challenges its digital counterpart does not. Since Penn State does not provide transportation, for example, students must arrange to get to campus on their own. The timing of the desired PSU course must also fit into the student’s traditional high school academic schedule.

Despite such logistical issues, the benefits are many. For one, all Pennsylvania high schoolers accepted into the Penn State program receive a 50 percent tuition reduction. If a student takes even a few dual enrollment classes during high school and those credits can transfer to the college he eventually attends, the savings — both in tuition and undergraduate study time — can be substantial.

Kathy Astrue is a freelance writer and editor.

A Student’s Primer on Earning College Credit in High School
Find resources. Check first with your high school’s guidance department. Your guidance counselor should be able to advise you about Advanced Placement options as well as local colleges and programs that offer college credit through campus courses or online learning.
Learn the lingo. The terms "dual enrollment," "concurrent enrollment" and "dual credit" are used differently by different schools. Know what you are signing up for — does the college course you want to take earn you simultaneous high school and college credit, or just college credit?
Consider the many benefits:
• Strengthen your college applications by demonstrating your ability to tackle college-level work.
• Explore a subject that is not available at your high school, or study a subject in more depth than is possible through your high school’s curriculum.
• Get a taste of college life by taking a class on a college campus.
• Study in the summer — if squeezing in a college class during the school year doesn’t work with your schedule, consider taking a course in the summer between junior and senior year, when you will be less distracted by other schoolwork and extracurricular activities.
• Save money — take advantage of the discounted tuition rates offered by some programs.
 Jump-start your life — graduate from college earlier and enter the workforce or graduate school sooner by accumulating college credits in high school and applying them toward your college requirements.
• Enjoy some breathing room — even if you don’t accumulate enough credits to graduate early, the college credits you earn in high school may allow you to take a less-crammed college course load for a semester or two. Place out of introductory college classes and enroll in higher-level ones that will interest and challenge you more.

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