Most days Augusta State University student Cayla Rheins has a full load of classes – psychology, biology, communications and Spanish – but Tuesday was a light day.
She only had one class that morning, a biology lab, so she had the entire afternoon to look for a prom dress.
“I’m pretty much a college student, but this is my only chance to go to prom,” said Rheins, who has been taking classes at Augusta State since she was 16.
The 17-year-old is among the growing numbers of “dual enrolled” students who begin their college careers before high school graduation. This year, 59 high school students are part of the College Credit Now program at Augusta State, according to Tyler Werrick, admissions recruiter.
“Dual Enrollment is the most popular program we offer at Augusta State,” Werrick said. “A dual-enrolled student gets the opportunity to gain college credit while also satisfying high school course requirements.”
Students must meet requirements to take advantage of the program, such as having a 3.0 grade point average and a combined math and verbal SAT score of at least 1100.
Werrick says the average dual-enrolled student takes three or four classes in high school and one or two courses at Augusta State each semester. The college courses count toward high school and college credit simultaneously, allowing students to continue the path toward a high school diploma while knocking out some of the core requirements that most college freshmen have to complete.
“Rather than taking electives, they choose to take dual-enrolled classes and get a jump start on college,” he said.
The effects tend to lead to better success in college as well. A 2008 study by the National Research Center for Career and Technical Education, found dual-enrolled students are more likely to complete college and attain a bachelor’s degree.
It may be that dual-enrolled students are just a bit more academically motivated than your average college freshmen. The fall class of dual-enrolled students at University of South Carolina Aiken had an average grade point average of 3.73, said Marcia Vernberg, coordinator for the Concurrent Enrollment program.
“That’s well above our average freshman’s GPA,” Vernberg said. “Our kids are being very successful in this program.”
USC Aiken’s program differs somewhat from Augusta State’s. Students are limited to one or two courses per semester and the university courses don’t count as high school credit, Vernberg said. The costs, however, are much less.
Students only pay $250 for a three semester-hour course, plus the cost of books. Georgia high school students pay the same fee as in-state students in USC Aiken’s program, Vernberg said.
At Augusta State, dual-enrolled students pay the same fees as enrolled students. The same number of semester hours is just over $995 for in-state tuition and fees.
Vernberg said the program has grown from just six students three years ago to 41 this year. She said although some electives are offered, most students are working on core requirements that can be transferred to any school.
That’s Kelsey Burack’s strategy. The Evans High School senior is taking statistics and Spanish at Augusta State to collect core credits before she enters Johnson and Wales University in Charlotte, N.C., this fall.
“I found that Augusta State offers a good percentage of the liberal arts courses I’ll need at Johnson and Wales,” said Burack, 18, who intends to pursue a career in culinary arts and restaurant management.
Burack said one of the hardest parts is juggling her schedule between Evans High and Augusta State. She was enrolled in four college classes in the fall, but has cut back to two this semester.
“It was a little hard driving back and forth,” she said.
Rheins agreed it was a little tough to transition to the demands of college work. She is a home-schooled student in addition to taking her college courses.
“At first it was difficult because I felt out of place, but most of the people I met didn’t know I was 16,” said Rheins, who intends to study ministry for a year after high school and then return to Augusta State to pursue a nursing degree.
She said learning to have discipline was tough at first.
“You can get away with not going to class or not doing your homework,” she said. “It helped me to be disciplined on my own.”
Now that she has figured out how to manage her time better, Rheins is looking for a part-time job to save money for college.
“I really like the freedom of the class schedule and being able to make my own decisions,” she said.
Her mother, Ann Rheins, said she is very pleased with the experience her daughter is getting. She said Cayla was starting to struggle with the home school curriculum and needed to move on to something new.
“I think this is a great program,” she said.
Werrick said the College Credit Now program is a great way for some students to make the transition to college.
“They have a good idea of the expectations of college without completely jumping into the water,” he said.