District expands college credit hours

01/20/2014 9:31 AM

01/20/2014 9:33 AM

High school students who think the current limit on dual-credit college courses is too restrictive will soon be able to add to their workload.

The school district has partnered with Tarrant County College to raise the 30-credit maximum to 48 dual credit hours, which would put full-load students within 12 college credits of a two-year associate degree when they finish high school.

And whereas the last dual-credit program was available only to juniors and seniors, the new iStart Collegiate Accelerated Dual Credit program allows students to take dual-credit courses in the summer after their sophomore year. The expanded program goes into effect this summer.

More credits mean students save more on the cost of college. And school officials said dual credit courses, all taught by college professors, also help students develop study and learning skills they will need to transition smoothly into college.

“I was surprised how well I was able to handle it,” said Autumn Lott, a Summit High School senior who will graduate with 12 dual credits. She plans to attend Texas Tech to pursue a law degree. “That really helped me know what college is all about when I go.”

In dual-credit programs, students get both college and high school credit for each course. The past program has flourished since its start in 1997, when it offered only six credits – for English and government -- and enrolled 71 students. There are 1,100 students now, said Holly McCanlies, the district’s director of guidance and counseling.

“It was experimental,” McCanlies said. “But it’s been incredibly successful.”

Of the 48 credit hours provided in the new program, 42 are for core subjects like English and science that are guaranteed to be accepted at any university or college in Texas. The remaining six hours are for electives that students must make sure will be accepted by the college they plan to attend.

And they can take the courses at their home high school if enough students sign up for them. Otherwise they might have to travel to another high school in the district.

Mansfield students get a special break under iStart. They pay only one-third of the regular $162 tuition of a dual-credit course, because the Mansfield district picks up the balance plus the cost of textbooks, McCanlies said.

“That’s unique to Mansfield ISD,” she said. “I’m very aware that other districts have them pay the tuition and/or textbooks.”

Students in the program also can get on track for a four-year bachelor’s degree at the University of Texas at Arlington for $10,000. There are challenging guidelines, but that price compares favorably with the average debt of $35,200 for college graduates in 2013, according to program information.

“They could get their bachelor by the time they’re 20, and jump right out into the workforce,” said district spokesman Richie Escovedo. But just as important, he added, is the encouragement the programs gives students who aren’t obvious candidates for higher education.

“The thing TCC kept stressing is that they want to foster this college-going culture, especially for students who for whatever reason might not have considered college as part of their future,” Escovedo said.

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