State wants college classes in high school

The state could soon pay for public high school seniors to take college courses, something state leaders hope will coax more students into more successful higher education.

“Cost shouldn’t be an obstacle for our students who are stepping up and challenging themselves to prepare for a better future,” said Gov. Jack Markell. “And we’re going to make sure it’s not.”

Starting in the next school year, the state would reimburse districts that partner with local universities to offer dual enrollment courses, in which students earn both high school and college credit. Individual districts are responsible for working with higher education institutions to make such classes available.

A few districts currently pay for students to take college classes, while some students’ families pay for the classes.

Dual enrollment can take several forms. Students can take the courses on a college campus, higher ed instructors can teach classes at local high schools, or high school teachers can be trained to teach college-level coursework. What courses are available and how they are administered could vary from district to district.

The governor’s proposed budget for next year includes $300,000 for the reimbursements, though the Legislature has to approve it. Low-income students would get funding priority.

“This is about giving you opportunities to challenge yourself,” Markell told a roomful of juniors at Caesar Rodney High School on Wednesday. “But there’s an unbelievable obligation on you to apply yourself. I’m hoping you will really take advantage.”

Secretary of Education Mark Murphy said dual enrollment mostly covers entry-level, general education courses like math and English. He said credit for such courses is usually easy to transfer between schools.

“Think about how valuable this is to a student. They will be going to college with credits already under their belts from day one,” Murphy said.

Those credits mean students will have a head start, which could allow them to either graduate faster or take more courses, Murphy said. Students also will gain exposure to the tougher expectations of college, easing their transition from high school. And parents will see savings because the state is picking up the tab for some of the earlier classes.

Mindy Cook is a Caesar Rodney junior who wants to study agriculture at Texas Tech University. She said she’d seriously consider the program, especially if it’s free.

“If I can get some of those early classes out of the way, it means I can jump right into my agriculture classes, which would be a big deal,” Cook said.

First, she wants to be sure Texas Tech will accept the credits.

Several Caesar Rodney students quizzed Murphy Wednesday about whether it makes more sense for them to choose dual enrollment or Advanced Placement classes, which are organized by the College Board to emulate college coursework. More than twice as many Delaware students are taking AP tests, which can get kids college credit if they score well, than a decade ago.

Murphy said each has its own strengths.

“With the AP, what you’re basically doing is taking your score on the AP test and asking colleges if they will count this for credit,” Murphy said. “With dual enrollment, you are actually taking the college class. So if you pass, you get the credit.”

Dual enrollment could offer more than a head start on a four-year degree. Delaware Technical Community College offers courses that can get students national certifications in fields like plumbing and carpentry by the time they graduate high school, and can even set them up to earn an associate degree in a year after graduating.

“You would leave high school ready for an entry-level job,” said Joanne Damminger, assistant VP for student affairs at DelTech. “Or you can get a huge head start on an associate’s degree, which could save you a lot of money.”

Contact Matthew Albright at malbright@delawareonline.com or 324-2428. Follow him on Twitter @TNJ_malbright.

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