Smiling Woman

How to Launch a Program Offering College Credit for High School Students

I was 16 years old, sitting in my first college class. I watched the grey haired professor at the front of the room, sitting on side of his desk with one leg casually swinging. He spoke to us like friends. He talked about his life, losing his wife, marrying the second love of his life, and how writing was his lifeline throughout all of that. He encouraged us to explore the deepest, strangest parts of us and to reveal them in our poetry or conversely, to write of the beauty in the mundane, overlooked parts of life.

I was 16, and I wondered if I belonged there, in that college level creative writing class. Over the course of the coming year, I would find that I did belong. I thrived among students both close to my age and much older. My professors stretched my mind like a pie crust, except the more it stretched the thicker and stronger it grew. Attending college at 16 was the best decision I had made of my life.

I was in the concurrent student program at Fort Lewis College during my senior year of high school. Through dual enrollment, I was able to fulfill the remaining high school credits I needed to graduate, while earning a year’s worth of college credits. I saved myself what I estimate to be about $10,000 in tuition costs by attending Fort Lewis that year. I went on to become a first-generation college graduate.

The concurrent program was a gift for me and other students like me. It pulled us out of a country high school with limited resources and absolutely no options for advanced or ambitious students. It allowed us to take courses from a four-year college at community college prices (some schools offer early courses to high school students for free, see below). It taught us that the elusive dream of college – an accomplishment of so few in our rural Colorado community – was attainable.

Programs that expose high school students to college-level learning have proven track records of success.  EducationDive reports such programs are especially useful for first-generation college students who come from low-income families. Of course, it can also help your institution. Assisting students – especially those in your area – in preparing for the rigors of higher learning will support your institution’s enrollment goals.

So how should you go about it? If your school is looking into adding a concurrent/dual or early college program, here are four easy steps to develop it:

1. Decide Who Is Eligible

Before you can bring students into your program, you must determine who qualifies and who does not. At the University of Hawai’i at Manoa, for instance, students are eligible who will have completed sophomore or junior year by summer, have maintained a 3.5 GPA, and have a recommendation from a teacher, counselor or principal. (Naturally parental approval is also required.) Depending on your university’s requirements for incoming students and other standards, you may set your GPA level differently, choose not to require a recommendation, or use any other rubric you prefer. At Fort Lewis, admittance factors include state test scores.

2. Determine the Costs

How much your course costs will depend on many factors, including how long courses will be, who will teach them, what facilities you will use and what subjects it will cover. Another factor to consider is whether the course will be primarily on campus or primarily online – as outreach programs, such as Cooper Union’s Summer Writing Program, can also successfully use the distance learning model. They may even take place in high school classrooms. Once you’ve determined the specifics of your program or programs, you will know how much to charge students.

In concurrent/dual programs, high school students are usually integrated into the college population, so you must factor in the value of a seat in your school’s classes. You may consider limiting the curriculum available to concurrent students or you may give them access to all introductory courses. All of that will factor into your costs.

3. Fund Your Program

Now it’s time to decide where the money will come from. Perhaps you will simply charge students for the program, or you might choose to offer need-based scholarships. If you do choose to offer scholarships, you may be able to use federal funding, donations, tuition and fees, your operation budget or a combination of all of these to fund them. If you choose to operate a tuition-free program, determine whether or not you will charge students for materials, have loaner or digital materials or cover the cost of students’ books.

4. Get the Word Out

Once your program specifics are in place, it’s time to toot your horn. Send information to area high school counselors to let them know about your programs, so that teachers can suggest them to students, and even recommend them. Be sure to include information about your outreach courses on your website as well, so students and parents can find it when they’re researching.

Also remember to use the program toward your own enrollment and financial aid goals, giving students handouts at the end of the course that inform them about how to apply for regular admittance and financial aid at your institution. Once you’ve completed these steps, you should be well on your way to maintaining a functional, enriching early college program for high school students.