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Dual Enrollment Gives Students a Head Start to College

Before Alanna Strawser walks across the stage to receive her high school diploma, she will have earned an associate’s degree in science from Dalton State.

She’s not alone.

Thanks to the dual enrollment program – where high school students can take college courses and receive credit for both – it’s possible for students to successfully graduate high school with an associate’s degree. Or they can graduate high school and enter college as a sophomore or with a few college credits already behind them.

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Dual enrollment allows high school students to take college courses without paying college tuition. It also helps them acclimate to the rigor of college while still receiving support from their families, said Katherine Logan, director of admissions at Dalton State, who oversees the dual enrollment program.

“Dual enrollment makes the transition to college easier,” Logan said. “We want these students to be successful in their college courses. And they can still participate in their extra-curricular activities at the high school. It’s economical. There are only a few fees plus textbooks.”

Students can choose to attend college part-time while still taking some classes at their high school or they can attend college full-time.

Strawser, a junior at Dalton High School, does not attend any classes at her high school. They’re all taken at Dalton State. She began as a dual enrollment student the second semester of her sophomore year and attended college part-time.

“But for the rest of my high school career I will be here,” Strawser said. “It’s guaranteed college credit. I was 16 when I started here. I was nervous but I still liked it. I still get to go to high school football games and the dances. I still do things with my friends. I get the benefits of both sides. It was a natural transition for me.”

Strawser plans to enter a nursing program upon graduating from high school, and she’s thankful to have the opportunity to take college courses now. She’s taken several courses, including chemistry, biology, U.S. History, English, and math classes.

She works with both her high school guidance counselor and Logan to make sure her courses will fit her high school needs as well as help her obtain her associate’s.

“It’s really helping me and my family financially,” she said. “I’m getting two years of college at no cost to my family. I definitely recommend it. But you have to have the motivation to do it because you have freedom here.”

Dual enrollment is not for every high school student, Logan said. Many teens don’t want to leave the social aspects of daily high school life behind, but flexible schedules are available so they can still be involved in their high schools.

“Tell me what you’re looking for and I’ll see if I can make it work for you,” Logan said.

Erin Gwaltney, a senior at Ringgold High School, has attended Dalton State for the last couple of years, but she has remained a member of the high school volleyball team and is active with the school’s FBLA chapter.

“It wasn’t difficult to adjust to college,” she said. “It was a really smooth transition, especially since I went part-time at first then full-time. In classes here, I never feel singled out as a dual enrollment student. I had to start studying outside the classroom, and there’s a lot more personal responsibility.”

Gwaltney plans to attend Georgia Tech where she will major in biomedical engineering, and though she hasn’t entered college as a traditional student yet, she already has her eyes set on a master’s degree within the next four years.

“I just didn’t feel challenged enough even in advanced classes in high school,” she said. “There weren’t a large number of AP classes available. I’m going to be ahead of the game now. I’ll graduate with close to 60 hours.”

Logan says the requirements to become a dual enrollment student are a little high just to make sure students will be successful at Dalton State.

Students must make at least a 19 on English and 21 on Math on the ACT or a 500 on math and a 450 on reading on the SAT plus have a grade point average of at least a 3.0 in core classes.

 

Currently there are approximately 150 dual enrollment students at Dalton State, which includes the Gilmer Center in Ellijay and satellite classes for students at Southeast Whitfield High School and North Murray High School. With a satellite class, the only cost to students is for books.

This is the second year North Murray has offered Dalton State classes at their school, and administrators say it is going so well they hope to phase out Advanced Placement (AP) classes in favor of dual enrollment. AP classes give students an opportunity to receive college credit after taking an exam whereas students receive college credit in dual enrollment as long as they pass the course.

“We said when we opened this school in 2009 we wanted to create a college-going culture in Murray County,” said North Murray principal Dr. Maria Bradley. “We’ve kept that focus. It’s happening here. We’re changing the dynamics of Murray County. We’re going to change the economy and workforce.”

Being able to offer classes on site has been a great opportunity for several students, Bradley said.

“It equalizes the playing field,” she said. “We have a high poverty rate in Murray County and many don’t have the means to go to Dalton State for classes. Some maybe haven’t even thought about the possibility of attending college at all because of their financial situations. But now that it’s available here, they’re realizing they can do it.”

Bradley says their highest achieving students are placed in the dual enrollment program at the school. School counselor Marelle Bowers says dual enrollment is ideal for students who are no longer being challenged by traditional high school classes.

“We’re hoping these classes will increase interest in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) fields,” Bowers said. “These are classes that will prepare our students for engineering or the medical field. It’s making our students think about their future. It’s helping show them opportunities they may not have thought about otherwise.”

Many college core classes are offered at North Murray, such as college algebra, biology, chemistry, and a few English courses. But because there is enough student interest, pre-calculus and calculus I and II are also available.

 Seth Peden, a senior at North Murray, said he isn’t sure he would have discovered his love of math otherwise. The highest math North Murray offers without dual enrollment is pre-calculus, but thanks to dual enrollment Peden has taken college algebra, pre-calculus, calculus I and calculus II from Dalton State.

“It has given me an opportunity to strive for more than just high school standards,” he said. “I’ve grown academically by taking these classes.”

Peden says taking college courses has made him more independent and has taught him how to avoid procrastinating.

“I feel more accomplished having an A in a college class,” Peden said. “This saves gas. I’m here at high school so I still get to see my friends. I’m in band. I’m part of the National Honors Society and Beta Club. I definitely feel like this has put me above the average college freshman.”

Peden hopes to continue his college education at Georgia Tech where he plans to study engineering.

Bowers hopes students who participate in dual enrollment are more competitive when it comes to being accepted to college and receiving scholarships.

“We really try to focus on transitioning our students to college and making sure they are career ready,” she said. “Having Dalton State classes here at the school helps us achieve that.”

Dual enrollment can help students meet the new HOPE scholarship requirements as well.

For the class of 2015, those earning HOPE must have at least two “rigorous courses,” and college courses taken through dual enrollment meets the requirement, Logan said. Students graduating in 2016 will have to have at least three rigorous courses to be eligible for HOPE.

Students interested in registering for dual enrollment should speak with their high school counselors.