|Image Courtesy: Helena Schools, Helena, MT|
By Rajkamal Rao
Many high schools offer students a chance to earn college credits right in high school, during the regular school day. Called Dual Credit, these courses are taught by college faculty (generally, community college professors) at the high school. They are more difficult to handle than regular on-level courses, but are generally easier than AP/IB courses. This is why school districts generally offer a weighted Grade Point Average (GPA) bonus which is in the middle between an on-level course and an AP/IB course.
Dual credit courses have little involvement with high school faculty once classes start. College instructors don't communicate progress with high school teachers or the guidance counseling team. Students generally must maintain at least a "C" average to earn dual credit, and complete all assignments/tests/projects as required by the instructor. Attendance requirements must also be met. Students cannot use high school activities as an excuse to skip classes.
In-state public universities and colleges are required, by law, to accept these credits when students enroll. Not all out-of-state public universities, or private universities, accept dual credit courses. AP/IB courses have a higher degree of acceptability than dual credit programs.
The school's partnership with the community college makes it easy for students to enroll in dual credit courses without the headaches of juggling two schedules. There is generally an "open-enrollment" window towards the end of the school year when interested students are invited to attend information sessions and register. If the student agrees to sign up, he/she will get a student ID from the community college. Once the student is in the college's system - and receives an email confirmation - he/she can take additional courses in the future at the college. For example, he/she can continue on to take the remaining 18 credits on top of the Texas Core Curriculum and earn an Associates Degree, enroute to transferring to a 4-year public Texas college.
A big advantage of Dual Credit programs is that students can begin test-driving college curricula right in the comfort of their high school. College instructors don't engage in as much handholding as high school teachers do. Expect to put in lots of work, on average, at least 6 hours a week for a 3-credit hour class. Dual credit classes are an excellent way to train in time management, an essential skill for success in college.
In some cases, Dual Credit programs may be the only meaningful choice available, especially for students with specific career goals. Even the College Board's AP courses may not be satisfactory enough. For example, Frisco ISD students interested in a nursing or medicine career can take the Health Science Clinical, a two credit course offered in the 11th and 12th grades, in partnership with Collin College. This course provides intensive classroom and clinical study of healthcare and patient care skills. Students will take the Texas Nurse Aide certification exam and upon passing, can become Certified Nurse Aides (CNA).
DrawbacksDual credit courses cost money. A Tarrant County resident taking a dual credit course at Bell High School taught by an instructor from Tarrant County Community College must pay $64 per credit hour, that is, $192, for a dual credit class. Remember that most classes are 3-credit hour courses. Textbooks are extra. For many high school students, AP courses end up being less expensive, more rewarding (because of the higher GPA bonus) and of better value because they are accepted by more colleges around the country.
TakeawayDual credit courses are an excellent option for students who wish to study in the state at a public college because articulation agreements ensure seamless credit transfer. They're also excellent for students who want to accelerate through high school and college - for example, for students who want to pursue medicine.
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