CHICAGO HEIGHTS–(ENEWSPF)–February 22, 2016. Earning college credit for free while in high school may sound too good to be true, but it is an option through the Dual Credit Program offered by Prairie State College (PSC), in partnership with area high schools. In the Dual Credit Program, students can earn high school and college credit at the same time – for free. All while they stay at their high school. Last year, this program equated to $311,915 total savings for all nine high schools in PSC’s district (including Kankakee Area Career Center), and 2,110 total credit hours earned.
“I pose the following question to the students I work with at Rich Township District: What if you had the opportunity to take a course while in high school, earn college credit, for free, and without paying for books – would you be interested? And over 90 percent of them want to enroll,” said Hope Stovall, district coordinator of career and technical education for Rich Township High School District 227.
Stovall explains, “I tell the parents that with dual credit, their student graduates from high school with college credits, and there is no travel, no book expense and no tuition cost. They can enter college as a second semester freshman, and sometimes as a sophomore, with a college transcript with credits they earned while in high school.”
Parents also find it appealing the student stays in one place to take all their courses. The program is designed for juniors and seniors. But recently, sophomores are being allowed to participate if they are enrolled in dual credit courses and are doing well. “We work with PSC’s Associate Dean Dr. David Naze, and supply a recommendation for high performing sophomores,” Stovall said.
As opposed to AP courses, if a dual credit student gets a C or better, they earn college credit. They do not need to take a national exam and earn a certain score. Dual credit courses focus on career or technical courses, and are taught by high school teachers who also are classified as adjunct professors at PSC.
Dual credit puts students on track to complete the necessary coursework for an associate degree in a career program or certificate at PSC. However, they will have an official college transcript and can send it to whatever school they choose.
If the students decide to enroll at PSC after high school, Martin Wolfe, assistant professor for industrial technology, says their employment opportunities are excellent.
“The workforce need is so great in this area, I can’t supply enough qualified students to companies. The students who come in with college credits from the dual credit program are way ahead of the game. Many of them start with a certificate credential they earned in high school through dual credit. Then, with the additional courses they take at PSC, they earn more certificates that are stackable and that make them more employable,” Wolfe said.
Wolfe also explained that many students can get a job after one semester. “We schedule the industrial technology courses to fit around shift work schedules. They can start working and continue earning their college degree at the same time,” he said.
Kankakee Area Career Center is one of PSC’s partners with dual credit. According to Matt Kelley, assistant principal/special population’s coordinator, the students gain confidence along with college credit by participating in the dual credit program. “They treat their classes as if it is their job. We focus on productivity and employability and expectations. By the time they graduate, they have a professional portfolio that includes college credit.”
“We discuss the tuition aspect, and the fact they are earning college credit for free. Dual credit helps students get industrial certifications and college credit at the same time,” Kelley said.
Kelley stressed that the faculty teaching dual credit are experts in their field. This was echoed by Wolfe, who said the high school teachers have to have the same credentials as the college instructors, and the courses are evaluated to ensure they match the college courses.
PSC is a member of the Career Preparation Network (CPN), the organization that facilitates partnerships that assists with transitioning students from high school to college.
“One of the most valuable benefits of dual credit is the proof of the ability to succeed that fills a student once they actually earn college credit while still in high school,” according to Janice Stoettner, CPN executive director. “Many not only get their first college credit while still in high school, but also the esteem and taste of success that propels them further,” she continued.
Stoettner feels other benefits of dual credit include engaging the student during senior year and exposing them to the rigors of college coursework. “It accelerates students’ college program completion by allowing them to actually enter college better prepared with credit already earned and with marketable technical skills that can be used for employment along the career pathway.
“Our students are gaining the competitive edge, our parents are realizing the cost savings, and our employers are partnering to help create their future workforce.”
In addition to the Rich Township District 227 schools and the Kankakee Career Center, the other participating schools are Beecher District, Bloom Township District, Crete-Monee District and Homewood-Flossmoor High School. The courses eligible for dual credit vary by high school. For more information on dual credit, contact Dr. David Naze, associate dean academic affairs, at [email protected].