Hanover students could soon have a clearer path to higher education.
State legislation, House Bill 1184, that became law last General Assembly session, requires high schools to partner with local community colleges to create programs where students can earn college credit while also getting a high school diploma.
Starting this summer, Hanover high school students will be able to start earning a General Studies Certificate, where they will take online classes offered through J. Sergeant Reynolds Community College. While working toward their high school diploma, students can earn up to 33 credits toward a college degree.
In the summer, students in their junior year of high school can start taking the first two courses of this program — a one-credit college transition class and another on how to take an online class.
Then in the fall, juniors will take English 11 and U.S. history — earning six credits total. During their senior year, students would take English 12, pre-calculus and psychology —earning 12 credits altogether, according to school division documents. For biology, pupils would receive four credits. All courses also fulfill high school curriculum requirements, except for the two summer classes.
School board member Norman K. Sulser, Cold Harbor District representative, expressed concern about the program being provided only online because he thinks students may have a hard time adjusting to the structure of an online course for their first college class.
“It’s a transition already going from high school to college,” Sulser said.
At the board’s Feb. 11 meeting, Sulser recommended the division also offer in-person classes after Dr. Daryl Chesley, assistant superintendent of instruction, presented information on the division’s new and existing dual enrollment offerings to the school board.
Sulser is advocating for the courses to be offered in person sooner rather than later, such as in the associate degree program that won’t be offered for a few years.
“There is no question in my mind that if we really want to do what is best for the students we need to offer the dual enrollment courses online and in person starting in 2014-2015 and not three years down the road,” Sulser said in a recent statement to the Herald-Progress. “We cannot and should not wait three more years to offer in-person classroom dual enrollment courses.”
But Chesley said that the classes would remain only online for now, because the program is still new. He added that the next step would be to ask students who plan on earning their general studies certificate if they have any interest in an in-person program.
Also at the Feb. 11 school board meeting, school officials agreed to have counselors find out if there would be enough student interest in taking additional dual enrollment courses.
“We’re basically checking the market,” said Chairman Robert L. Hundley Jr., Chickahominy District representative, in a recent interview.
Once the student responses roll in, the school board will review them and decide whether or not they will need to contact J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College and ask the school to add more dual enrollment courses for Hanover students, Hundley said.
He said the topic of discussion would also be added to the board’s work session planned for some time in March.
In a second dual enrollment program, students would have an opportunity to acquire an associate degree while earning their high school diploma starting in 2016. With this opportunity, students could acquire 60 credits toward their college degree before entering a university or college.
Students would take all the basic courses expected of a freshman in college such as history, English and a science course, but have the option of French, calculus, statistics, psychology and an elective.
But Chesley said that the program could not ramp up until 2016 because school officials are still working out its details. Currently, the division has not decided on a name for the program or how school officials will market it, Chesley added.
“We just have a lot of questions to answer before we can be concrete with [it],” Chesley said.
Hundley said the board will discuss the possibility of expediting the start time for the associate degree program.
“There seems to be an interest in the community for a clearer path to an associate degree,” Hundley said.
He said that the degree could not only help some students expedite their college career but it could help others seeking different post- high school opportunities speed up the process of starting a career.
But Hundley said the board is aware that parents and pupils have to consider what colleges and universities take those credits and associate degrees earned while in college.
“It’s all college dependent when it comes to what’s transferable,” Hundley said.
Hanover schools have proposed the two new programs to comply with the state law, but they would provide a lot more chances to receive dual enrollment credits than the school system currently offers.
High schools team up with a number of colleges and universities including Randolph-Macon College and Virginia Commonwealth University, but Chesley said that the primary partner the division works with is J. Sergeant Reynolds Community College.
Presently all Hanover high schools only offer English, a college composition course, and 168 students at all Hanover schools take the class with the community college, said Tracy Banks, dual enrollment coordinator at J. Sergeant Reynolds Community College. However, a number of courses are offered at Hanover High School such as human anatomy, dentistry, nursing and pharmacy, which all students could take part in because of the school’s specialty center. Pupils can also choose to enroll in 10 or 15 online dual enrollment courses.
Across the board, 228 students are enrolled in at least one dual enrollment course out of the 6,022 high school students in Hanover, said Linda Scaborough, communications specialist.
In order to qualify to take one of the courses, Banks said students must prove they are ready for college in addition to taking a placement test at the community college or demonstrate their ability for a course through their SAT or PSAT scores.
Although enrollment in dual-credit programs is fairly low, more Hanover students are taking Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate courses. Last year, 1,312 pupils were enrolled in at least one AP class and 572 took an IB course, according to Chesley.
But the number of AP and dual enrollment classes relies heavily on student interest, Chesley said.
However, AP students must get a score of a three or higher on their exam in order to receive college credit and a similar rule applies for IB tests.
Achieving the perfect score may be more challenging on AP or IB tests compared to earning credit from a dual enrollment course, but the price of AP/IB exams are cheaper than the cost of dual enrollment classes.
Chesley said an AP exam costs $85 and an IB exam is priced at $105 whereas the “out of pocket cost” to take a dual enrollment course would be $255 for a three-credit course, $85 per credit. If the student takes a two-semester course, they would pay $510 for the six total credits.
The cost of dual enrollment is a big reason why students may opt out of enrolling, Chesley said. He said some parents may encourage their high schoolers take AP or IB classes over dual enrollment because they view it as a good and more rigorous route for their children.
At J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College, there are a few other reasons that Banks said she has heard in the past — that students decided to take an AP class instead or could not fit a dual enrollment course in their schedule.
But dual enrollment supporter Sulser said a pro of those courses is that they are weighted in comparison to a regular high school class. Also, students must earn a C or above in the course to pass, whereas AP or IB students have to achieve the aforementioned specific score in order to earn college credits.
Sulser said he is worried that the AP and IB exams are not passed as frequently and as a result students aren’t earning any credits toward their college degree.
According to data from the division, 60.8 percent of the AP tests taken last year qualified for college credit, meaning students received either a three, four or five on the exam.