Even though they haven’t graduated from high school yet, twin sisters Samantha and Mackenzie Reynolds have a year of college under their belts.
But they had to pay a price, a big price.
The girls have spent a total of around $14,400 in tuition to take two three-credit hour courses a semester at the University Center-Rapid City for what is known as the dual credit program, which gives students an opportunity to take high school and college courses simultaneously.
Despite tuition costs of $301 an hour for the program, more than 2,860 high school students have taken advantage of it since 2008, according to data provided by the Board of Regents.
But the cost of tuition became a source a concern for Gov. Dennis Daugaard, who this year asked the Legislature to approve $300,000 for the program.
As a result of that appropriation and other adjustments, the cost will drop to $40 per credit hour beginning with this fall’s classes.
In making his case for the funding, the governor said he wants to remove an obstacle for students who want to get a jump on higher education.
“In some cases, the cost of the higher education credits makes these opportunities cost prohibitive for a student’s family,” Daugaard said in his state of the state speech in January where he announced the initiative.
Daugaard noted in his speech that students who begin college with completed credits are more likely to complete their degrees on time.
The statement is backed up by a study the Board of Regents presented in July 2013. It found that students who participated in the dual enrollment program outperformed other college students in ACT scores, first-year grade point averages, second-year retention and degree completion.
“Perhaps most striking among the figures shown here is that students with dual enrollment credits ‘out-graduated’ students with no such credit by a difference of 40.5% to 22.4% (four-year rates) and 74.2% to 54% (six-year rates),” the study’s authors concluded.
The Reynolds sisters are reaping the benefits of the program even if it came at a high price.
The 17-year-old Stevens High School seniors began enrolling in college courses in their junior year. With two college courses a semester since then at the University Center-Rapid City, the girls are in the final months of both their senior and freshman years.
They have been accepted to the pre-med program at the University of South Dakota. Mackenzie plans on becoming a neurologist; Samantha a pediatric oncologist.
The girls began taking high school classes in middle school at their Department of Defense Education Activity school in Aviano, Italy, Mackenzie said.
Their father, Bill, is a nurse in the U.S. Air Force and their mother, Nichole, is a teacher. Mackenzie said they have always stressed that a good education is their top priority.
Mackenzie, who maintains a 3.97 grade-point average, said they are eager to become full-time college students and get their degrees.
“We’re kind of getting kind of sick of the general education stuff,” she said Monday.
Samantha, who has a 4.17 GPA, added that she looks forward to the experience that college courses will offer.
“I really liked it because the teachers treat you like you’re an adult,” she said. “They just tell you what you have to do, and they expect you to do it. Compared to high school where they treat you like a kid, and you have to ask to go to the bathroom. I think this experience will really benefit us.”
Samantha had a bit of advice for the students who can now take dual credit courses for a greatly reduced tuition.
“I know a lot of high school kids who think that college will be just like high school,” Samantha said. “But when they get there, they find out it is completely different.”