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High school students earning college credit

Doing Double Duty

Texas has its share of higher education institutions, and some students can't wait to attend them. In fact, some Texas students aren't waiting--they're earning college credit before they graduate from high school.

Texas boasts 140 public and independent higher education institutions, including 50 public community college districts, 31 public four-year universities and 37 independent four-year colleges and universities. Earning a baccalaureate degree can take longer than four years, though. The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) reported in November 2001 that fewer than half of the students who enter Texas colleges, 49 percent, earn a baccalaureate degree within six years.

Some students hope to get a jump on their degrees by earning college credits before they've received high school diplomas.

Several options
Students have a number of options for earning college credit while still in high school. One way is by taking College Level Examination Program (CLEP) exams. According to the College Board, which administers the tests, CLEP exams cover material often taught in undergraduate courses, such as history and English literature.

Students do not have to take prerequisite courses to register for CLEP exams, and more than 2,900 accredited colleges and universities nationwide accept the exams for course credit. Each school sets its own guidelines for applying CLEP credit.

Students also can take Advanced Placement (AP) courses as part of their high school curriculum. AP courses are higher-level academic high school classes for which some colleges award credit. The College Board also administers the AP program. AP defines what qualifies a class as an AP course, and any school can offer the courses.

Students don't earn college credit just by taking the courses, though. Students must take the AP exam for each course, then colleges decide how they'll award credit.

If a college accepts an AP exam score for credit, the savings can be substantial. The cost for each AP exam is $80. THECB reports that the average cost in 2002-03 for tuition and fees for a three-semester-hour course is $675 at a Texas public university and $225 at Texas community college.

Julie Leidig, director of instructional programs for THECB's community and technical colleges division, says there are good reasons to take AP classes, even if a student doesn't plan on taking the exam for college credit.

"It's going to be a better, more rigorous class," Leidig says. She says it's riskier than other methods if the goal is to ensure college credit, but says AP classes can help prepare students for the harder work that college courses require.

Agreeing to credit
High school students also can earn college credit by taking articulated courses. Articulated courses are primarily career and technology high school classes. Generally, a two-year college enters into an agreement with a school district stating the college will accept specific courses for credit if a student enrolls at the college in a technical field of study after graduation. The college applies the credit toward an associate of applied science degree or a certificate. This is called local articulation.

"All the state's community and technical colleges participate in articulation agreements," says Glenda Barron, THECB's community and technical colleges division assistant commissioner. Some universities that offer bachelor of applied arts and sciences or bachelor of science in information systems degrees also honor the courses.

Hank Madeley, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) acting director of career and technology education, says more than 700 of the state's school districts have agreements with colleges.

Texas also has a statewide articulation program called SWAP, which began in 2001-02.

Statewide-articulated courses meet a common statewide standard for college credit, and teachers must earn additional certification to teach them. Unlike a locally articulated course that is eligible for credit only at a specified college, a statewide-articulated course is eligible for credit from any participating public two-year college in Texas. Madeley says most community colleges accept the courses, and the program has a good start.

"Last year [2001] was the first year [for SWAP], and about 27,000 students took a statewide course," he says.

Madeley says it's impossible to tell how many students took locally articulated courses because of the way the state collects data. He says, though, that the state can track the number of students enrolled in the TechPrep program.

Students in TechPrep begin a course of study, usually career or technical, in high school that they can continue in community or technical college, resulting in a certificate or associate's degree.

Madeley says some of the courses, such as Health Science, can be taught as academic or technical courses, and colleges have discretion in how they count the courses for credit.

TechPrep was first offered in 1992, and about 11,000 students participated. In 2001-02, nearly 100,000 Texas high school students participated.

Kid on campus
Students also can take concurrent enrollment classes. Concurrent enrollment, also known as dual enrollment, enables high school students to enroll in college courses before they graduate from high school. Students can use the course credits to satisfy high school requirements and apply the credit to a college transcript.

In 2000-01, more than 38,000 high school students in Texas took concurrent enrollment courses. Those students passed and received credit for 94 percent of the concurrent courses they took. Rey Garcia, executive director of the Texas Association of Community Colleges, says nearly all Texas colleges allow dual enrollment. Some colleges, especially in urban areas, waive tuition and fees.

David Anderson, TEA's curriculum coordinator, says most colleges have agreements with school districts that outline the courses, content and teaching arrangements for the classes for which they allow dual enrollment because concurrent enrollment can take several forms.

In some cases, high school students go to the college's campus to take a course with the college's students. In others, college professors teach the class at the high school campus. Or a high school teacher approved by the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools to teach the college-level course will teach it at the high school campus.

Unlike AP or articulated courses, concurrent enrollment students must pass or get an exemption from the Texas Academic Skills Program, the exam that Texas students must pass to take college-level classes in math, reading and writing.

Getting popular
Garcia says the arrangement and popularity of credit programs are diverse.

"It just really varies depending on what's going on at each institution and district," he says.

Anderson says that whatever form the arrangement takes, the practice is gaining in popularity.

"It has grown in the last five to six years," he says. "One of the reasons I think we're seeing more of it is the Texas public school curriculum became more defined in 1997," he says.

The State Board of Education approved the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills, which details the state's core curriculum, in 1997.

THECB says students can benefit from exposure to college courses and to college campuses and from earning college credit; however, high schools or colleges can limit the number of concurrent courses students take per semester, and students are subject to college tuition and fees and may need to travel to attend classes.

Proceed with caution
Whether a student takes a CLEP exam or enrolls in a special class, the result is the same--a jump start on college. Garcia says that providing these options and showing students they can be successful on the college level can be a tool for getting more Texas children involved in higher education.

"The statewide perspective is the more opportunities we can provide for students, the better," he says. "I think the more we can encourage students to challenge themselves, the better off we are."

Anderson says there are benefits to early credit, but parents, schools and students should make sure they are making the right academic choice for the individual student.

"The notion of earning college credit in high school is very appealing for a number of students and parents," Anderson says. "For many students, it gives them the opportunity to earn college credit early, and it allows them to do it at a much lower cost.

"On the other hand, we have to be very careful that we're not altering our public school experience so that high school becomes a three-year experience with the fourth year designed just to earn college credit. We don't want to push kids to do things before they're academically ready to do them."

Suzanne Staton

Passport unnecessary

The International Baccalaureate (IB) is the smallest, and probably least known, way for Texas students to earn college credit. The program is similar to the College Board's Advanced Placement (AP) program. Students take IB classes as part of their high school curriculum, then take an exam. As with AP, colleges decide if and how they will accept the classes for credit. The program is recognized internationally, and could be useful for students studying abroad or applying to elite U.S. universities.

The IB program was founded in 1968 and is based in Geneva, Switzerland. It contains three components, one for primary school, one for middle school and one for high school. At the end of the high school level, a student can earn an IB diploma.

David Anderson, the Texas Education Agency's curriculum coordinator, says most students who take IB courses are working toward the IB diploma, but some students take the classes to set themselves apart when applying for college.

"There's a cachet to it that is more readily recognized in some of the more exclusive academic institutions in the U.S.," he says. "Some students just do it for the challenge."

Schools that want to offer IB courses apply to the International Baccalaureate Organization (IBO). In Texas, the IBO has granted only 25 schools standing to offer IB courses: two offer the middle years program, and 23 offer the diploma program. Only one of those schools, the Awty International School in Houston, is a private school.