Is your teen ready to take the dual credit plunge?


About 40 percent of all US undergraduates are attending community colleges today, and that percentage is on the rise for many reasons, including lower tuition costs, smaller class sizes, and the ability for students to explore several interests before deciding on a major and transferring to a four-year college or university.

Zach Denton, ACC’s Manager of High School Programs – Enrollment & Outreach

Zach Denton, ACC’s Manager of High School Programs – Enrollment & Outreach

Here in central Texas, the Austin Community College (ACC) system is especially robust, with many opportunities for students who are still in high school as well as those who’ve just graduated. Currently, about 7,000 students are enrolled in high school “dual enrollment” programs, in which kids are able to pursue college credit and high school credit simultaneously. Zach Denton, Manager of High School Programs – Enrollment & Outreach at ACC, estimates that around 10 percent of those in dual enrollment programs are homeschooled.

According to Zach, the overwhelming majority of dual enrollment students are taking Core Curriculum courses, which cover a broad variety of traditional academic subjects, including math, English, history, life and physical sciences, foreign languages, and psychology. “The advantage to taking Core Curriculum courses is that they are widely transferable to other public colleges/universities in the state of Texas, as well as many private institutions.” And these courses are often eligible for reduced or waived tuition fees.

Camille North, homeschooling leader, consultant, coach, and parent

Camille North, homeschooling leader, consultant, coach, and parent

Camille North, whose three homeschooled kids all took advantage of ACC in different ways, now provides help for students grappling with college decisions through workshops, coaching, and lots of resources available on her website, Brain Bump Consulting. Camille warns parents and kids that going to ACC isn’t what they may imagine—it’s not all 18- and 19-year-olds out on their own for the first time. “The problem I’m seeing most,” says Camille, “is that kids are getting interested in going to ACC at younger ages, and they may not be ready socially or emotionally, even if they’re ready academically.” Most ACC students are adults, not teenagers, and therefore younger students have to be comfortable hearing adult language, possibly sitting in a classroom with other students who are trying to start over after having been in prison, being “hit on” by people five or ten years older, and lots of other things that could be a shock.

Zach agrees. “It’s one thing for a test to say you are college ready,” he explains, “but there are many other characteristics and skills that will determine whether a student (regardless of age!) is truly ready for college and will be successful.” Time management, maturity, attention to detail, and personal responsibility are all vital.

Both Camille and Zach also emphasize that students and parents have to understand that ACC courses stick with students as part of their college transcripts forever. Zach advises young people that “this is not a situation where you can just simply dip your foot in the water to see what it’s like—you have to be ready to jump in head first and swim!”

All these warnings aren’t meant to discourage kids, but to make sure their eyes are wide open. Camille adds, “I’m a big fan of community college as an option for kids who want to move ahead academically, but it’s not for every student. And that includes online courses, which some families opt for instead of on-campus classes.” Self-directed learning, she says, is a big transition for young people who are used to one-on-one guidance and learning in a close-knit community or family.

One of Camille’s own kids has chosen the “2 plus 2” option of living at home and completing a full two-year course of study at ACC after high school so he can make sure he knows what he wants to study before committing to a four-year college or university. This option, she says, is a nice, “gentle transition” to life away from home for students who don’t want an abrupt change at age 17 or 18.

Overall, says Zach, there are some clear positives for students who decide to attend ACC before moving on to a four-year school: 1) the cost, 2) smaller class sizes (which are usually capped at 36 students), and 3) lots of convenient locations. If you have (or are) a teen who is interested in “jumping in head first and swimming,” check out these ACC sites:

Shelley Sperry

Media Monday: The challenge of summer melt

ACC’s  College Destination Center  was set up in part to help students avoid summer melt with one-on-one assistance in transitioning to college.

ACC’s College Destination Center was set up in part to help students avoid summer melt with one-on-one assistance in transitioning to college.

A term I hadn’t heard of before, “summer melt,” hit the news in the past week or so. The term has been around for several years, but new solutions are prompting a mini wave of new media attention. Summer melt refers to the 10 to 40 percent of students who declare when they’re tossing their high school graduation caps in the air that they are heading to college—but, when classes start in the fall, never show up.

I first ran across the term in an NPR Podcast, Hidden Brain, which focused on an innovative program at Georgia State University that uses texts to check up on students and—more important—to answer the nagging little questions that create roadblocks, especially for lower-income kids. It seems, from the NPR report and others from Houston Matters, the Texas Tribune, the New York Times, and multiple articles a couple of years ago from KUT, that it’s usually a series of many small frustrations and confusing hurdles that add up to thwart students and keep them from reaching their dreams.

What I like about most of these discussions is that they take into account the major emotional turmoil that so many kids are facing as they transition to the new, bewildering world of college. Financial challenges are the biggest category of roadblocks, but even serious money problems often can be overcome with the right mentoring, timely information, and support from family, friends, churches, and other community institutions.

Certainly new technologies—the focus of the NPR and New York Times stories—offer a lot of help. And a major study and handbook from Harvard’s Center for Education Policy Research can also offer tips, especially for teachers and school counselors. But if you know young people struggling right now to get through the frustrations of July in order to step into higher ed in August and September, you might take a look at the stories of three local young people who beat summer melt a couple of years ago. Their tales are chronicled by KUT’s Kate McGee on a tumblr called “The Months Between.”

Shelley Sperry