High school students get ahead with dual enrollment

Time is a premium and adults aren't the only ones who face the challenge of finding enough hours in the day.

High school students, too, have a myriad of responsibilities and activities that demand their energy and attention but a cooperative agreement between Moffat County High School and Colorado Northwestern Community College helps ease that crunch.

Through a dual-enrollment program, students can sign up for college courses and receive credit for both high school and college.

An additional benefit is that they can do it without paying tuition.

Colorado Northwestern Community College offers free tuition to Moffat County residents, making students' only investments books and time.

The program, modeled after one set up by the state, allows the college to waive tuition until a student finishes the course. If a student gets a passing grade, the tuition is free. If the student fails, they have to pay the tuition.

"It's a good incentive," said Gene Bilodeau, CNCC associate dean of student services. "Students can take any class that applies to a degree and the high school determines if it's eligible as a high school core credit."

In 1999, the first year of the program, 80 students enrolled. In 2000, that number soared to 106 and in 2002 it continued to jump. Spring enrollment was at 129.

The program is open to qualified juniors and seniors at Moffat County High School and home-schooled students. They must successfully complete an entrance exam -- a short version of the ACT test -- and be approved by the high school and college. The student and the student's parents also must sign a contract.

"If they're solid students, we let them enroll," Bilodeau said. "Dual enrollment was initially set up to give students on the upper end of the academic scale the ability to be challenged more than they would've been. Now it gives all students the opportunity to move forward."

High school students who have demonstrated exceptional academic ability may be permitted to enroll as college students while completing their high school programs, according to Mary Morris, CNCC community relations director.

"It's a wonderful opportunity," she said. "Students have the chance to graduate from high school with an associate's degree."

Dual-enrollment courses are available on the Moffat County High School campus as well as at CNCC and several MCHS teachers are paid by CNCC to teach the dual college/high school courses. Some high school students take those courses as advanced placement classes and not for college credit, but the majority are doing both, Bilodeau said.

"It works out really well for those students because they don't have to leave the high school," he said.

According to Moffat County School District Assistant Superintendent Joel Sheridan, the benefit to students is they don't have to conform their high school class schedules to fit the curriculum of the college. Instead of taking two high school class hours to take one college course, students can take the class during normal school hours.

Some students in the program receive enough credits to earn an Associate in Arts degree from CNCC and enroll in a university as a sophomore after high school graduation.

"Students get dual credit for the course work," Bilodeau said, "and students who maximize this opportunity can accomplish two years of college while still in high school."

Bilodeau said that in 1999 a dual-enrolled student in Rangely graduated from high school with a simultaneous degree from CNCC. This year, two Craig students are expected to accomplish the same feat.

Bilodeau said college allows students more freedom and requires more from the students as well.

"This program is not meant for the student looking for an easy way out," he said.

Many high school students think college-level classes are easy but, according to Bilodeau, this perception is untrue. He said students in dual-enrollment college classes do attend less actual class time, but have a greater level of independent study, homework and dedication, which is necessary to successfully complete course work.

Students also are forced to take responsibility for their own education. Unlike high school, which has attendance requirements and truancy policies, colleges require students to make their own decisions.

"When they're in high school, students basically have things mapped out for them. When they come to college, the classes are taught like a college class. If they decide to skip, no one chases them down," Bilodeau said. "For some, it's too much freedom too fast."

At the end, students either have a college credit or a tuition bill and a permanent negative grade on their college transcript.

Mixing traditional and non-traditional students benefits both, Bilodeau said.

"It makes for a real interesting learning environment," he said.

"Both have a lot to learn from each other."

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