More students going to college before finishing high school

More South Florida students have decided to spend their high school years going to college.

They are taking dual-enrollment classes, which allows them to earn college credits for free. By the time they graduate high school, many have already completed a year or more of college, saving them thousands of dollars and allowing them to start their careers sooner.

While dual enrollment has been around for decades, its popularity has surged in recent years as high schools push it more aggressively and students look to save money.

Last year, 5,417 students took dual-enrollment classes at Broward College, a 47 percent increase in the past four years. About 3,635 high school students took classes at Palm Beach State College, and 6,149 did at Miami Dade College, about an increase of about a third at both schools during the past four years.

Taylor Grant, 17, a senior at Piper High in Sunrise, has been taking dua- enrollment courses at Broward College’s Davie campus since the summer after her freshman year. She already has 57 of the 60 credits she needs for an associates degree,

“I can save money. I get two years of college for free while I’m in high school, and I get the experience of being on a college campus,” she said.

Grant said dual enrollment offers her the flexibility to take classes at times outside the regular school day. That makes it easier for her to work and volunteer.

At Palm Beach State, 27 students had an associates degree by their high school graduation last spring, the most ever.

“When they finish high school, they can transfer to a university as a junior. The savings behind that is astronomical,” said Robin Johnson, director of recruitment and dual enrollment for Palm Beach State.

Several high schools are specifically designed for students to take college classes, including FAU High, College Academy at Broward College and School for Advanced Studies in Miami.

Ten students at FAU High even earned enough credits for a bachelor’s degree by the time they finished high school last spring.

Officials at local school districts say they’ve been encouraging students to take the placement test required to enroll in college classes. They have an incentive to do that, as a portion of a high school’s state letter grade is based on how many students complete college-level courses.

Students can also earn college credits by taking Advanced Placement courses or classes affiliated with programs such as International Baccalaureate and Cambridge International. But those programs require students to pass an exam at the end to get college credit, regardless of how well they do in the class.

Students get college credit in dual-enrollment classes as long as they get a C in the class.

“It doesn’t rely on a high stakes test. Students are constantly building a grade,” said Russell Aaronson, a Coral Springs High language arts teacher who is also an adjunct professor for Broward College. “You know if you’re taking the course and doing the work, your credit is going to be good.”

Eddie Ruiz, an assistant superintendent for Palm Beach County schools, said that while the rigor of AP classes can vary from school to school and class to class, “with dual enrollment, you’re taking actual state college courses.”

Not all students go off campus to take dual-enrollment classes. Many teachers double as adjunct college professors and teach the classes on high school campuses.

Delina Ly, 16, is taking Broward College English and history classes at Coral Springs High. She’s a junior now and hopes to earn enough college credits to graduate high school with an associates degree.

She hasn’t yet taken any classes on a college campus yet, admitting the thought makes her uneasy.

“I’m very nervous to actually approach a college campus since I’m much younger than most students,” she said. “I don’t really know my way around, and I’m a shy person.”

Her classmate, Aaron Jimenez, 17, said he thinks dual enrollment classes will give him an edge on his college application.

“They’ll see I took the initiative to excel in school instead of just taking the easier classes,” he said.

stravis@sunsentinel.com, 561-243-6637 or Twitter @smtravis

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