This past week the Georgia Department of Education approved new regulations that will change the way students transition from high school to college. The process is now easier than ever for motivated high school students to take one or more college courses that count towards their high school graduation requirements.
The changes were made to bring Georgia’s school policies in line with the Move On When Ready bill that became law this past year. As the name implies, the state is encouraging students to move on to college when they are ready to perform at that level rather than when they have spent a set number of years in high school.
The most significant change that was approved equates a one semester college course with an entire year of a high school course. Previously, a one-semester dual-enrollment college course counted about the same as a one-semester high school course. Under the new equivalencies, a student who takes a required college course for one semester will fulfill the entire year’s high school requirement for that subject area.
For example, Georgia requires students to complete four units of credit in mathematics. In high school, one semester equals one-half of a unit, so a student must enroll in a math both fall and spring semester to stay on pace for graduation. However, if a student completes college algebra in our dual-enrollment program, then they can take math one semester and select another course for the second semester. As an added bonus, that one math course is also widely transferable as a fully accredited college course. So, the student will have one less math course to complete in college.
When I first learned of this new policy, the first question that came to mind was whether high school juniors who participate full-time in dual-enrollment as a junior can graduate a year early from high school since each semester of college will count as a year of high school. The answer to that question is yes.
Highly motivated high school juniors who want to rise to the level of taking college courses can now graduate a year early and have about 30 hours of college credit to take with them when they enroll in college after graduation.
This spring, I will be working with our advisors and the high school counselors to develop a schedule that will allow students to graduate high school a year early if they so desire. There are still some logistical issues to work out, but I am confident that we will be able to make this opportunity possible.
Just because the new changes allow students to graduate early does not mean that every student should do so. Not every student is ready to enroll early in college and not every student wants to forego their senior year in high school.
I think the best part of these new changes is that they allow students more options. In the future, we will continue to offer the option for students who want to take just one or two college courses per semester.
Our most popular option will probably continue to be our early morning options where students complete their college classes in time to get to high school by second period. And, we will continue to offer evening courses for students who prefer that option.
The other features of the dual-enrollment program that make this such a good deal for students are basically the same. Most of the tuition and fees are still paid for by ACCEL or other funding sources. And, the core college courses are still guaranteed transferability within the University System of Georgia and are widely accepted elsewhere as fully accredited college credit.
This past fall, I taught my first course that had a large percentage of dual-enrollment students. I was impressed with the caliber of these students. The classroom discussions made it a joy to walk into the classroom each day. And, the gratitude that the students expressed over having the opportunity to take a college course was very satisfying.
On the other hand, I also learned that some students are not ready to make this transition. Any student who sees dual-enrollment as an easy way to graduate from high school was confronted with the reality of taking a college level course.
We make every effort to help students make the successful transition to college. Part of that includes holding students to college-level standards. Students quickly learn that studying outside of class is essential to success.
This is why the research shows that dual-enrollment students tend to have higher grades than other students once they enroll in college as freshmen. These students have already learned what it takes to succeed at the next level. That is one reason why universities look favorably at applicants who have challenged themselves by taking college level courses while still in high school.
For all of the knocks that Georgia receives about education, one area where we are ahead of the pack is in easing the transition from high school to college. I am glad that the days of rigid rules that did not allow students to perform to their highest level have given way to performance-oriented standards that allow students to progress at their own pace.
The new more flexible standards are especially relevant to families here in Fayette County. I went to a high school event for sophomores the other night and the auditorium was filled to capacity with students and their parents. And, I applaud the high school for challenging students to explore their options and make the most of their education.
These are exciting times for higher education in Georgia. I cannot count the number of parents and other adults who tell me that they wish dual-enrollment had been around when they were in school. I feel the same way; I would have loved to have started taking college courses while still in high school.
Well, the opportunity is here now and it is going to be exciting to watch an increasing number of students rise to the challenge and move on because they are ready for the next level.
[Dr. Kevin Demmitt is assistant vice president for academic outreach, Clayton State University, and director of the Fayette campus, located at 1200 Commerce Dr. in Peachtree City.]