W ith college tuition steadily rising, sticker shock takes many parents and students by surprise. Annual tuition ranges from $2,700 at two-year colleges, to between $7,600 (public) and $35,000 (private) at four-year schools, according to the College Board — and that doesn’t include textbooks, room, and board. The price tag of a single, three credit-hour college course is $650 to $2,100 — painful on any budget when a bachelor’s degree requires 120 credit hours. But take heart: Savvy parents can defray expenses by helping high school students plan ahead.
Motivated teens enrolled in accelerated learning courses can earn as much as one full year of university credit at a steep discount by the time they receive their high school diploma. Accelerated classes also prepare students for the rigors of higher study, helping ensure their success in college where poor grades requiring course retakes can take a financial toll and jeopardize scholarship money.
Here are three ways smart students can get ahead:
Advanced Placement (AP) Courses
A College Board program of 33 standardized courses across 22 subjects, qualifying scores earned on national AP exams are granted credit by U.S. colleges and 55 foreign universities. Last May, over 21,400 Tennessee high school students took AP exams. Students register for APs in spring for the following school year.
Cost: $87/course-end exam (fee reduced or waived for qualifying students)
Savings: $473 to $1,923 for three-hours college credit per AP course
How It Works: Students take a national exam after course completion. Scaled scores range from 1 to 5, with 3 considered passing. Colleges generally require a 3 or 4 for course credit; competitive colleges may require a 5.
AP courses begin in 9th or 10th grade and substitute for regular classes, although some schools may require the regular course as a prerequisite for the AP version (e.g., chemistry.) Students need a teacher’s or guidance counselor’s approval before registering for APs to ensure they’re academically ready for advanced placement and to learn what self-directed summer preparation is required for each subject.
Courses vary among private and public high schools, and from campus to campus within the public systems themselves. Offerings common to many include: English literature & composition, U.S. history, U.S. government and politics, European history, statistics, biology, calculus, physics, psychology, and modern languages.
A principle advantage of AP coursework, notes Rick Broer, academic dean at Memphis University School, is that students are challenged by college-level expectations and evaluation through curriculum developed by university professors around the country, mirroring or even exceeding what they’ll experience as college freshmen. This translates as solid readiness for the real thing.
AP teachers, prepared in accelerated instruction, also enhance their programs to further challenge students. This supports learners’ excellence in critical discourse like exam essays and promotes the high achievement profile for which scholarship money is awarded.
AP students must work hard to keep up with heavy reading and assignment loads. In exchange, AP grades receive maximum weighting when grade point averages are calculated. Students who take fall semester AP courses also must be motivated to continually review their work as national exams are offered only in May.
Dual Enrollment/Dual Credit Courses
Dual Enrollment students take actual college courses while in high school. Dual Credit students simultaneously receive high school diploma and college credit while doing so. Students must take the ACT and be at least sophomores before applying. Students in 30 area public and private high schools, as well as many homeschooled teens, are taking courses through five local colleges to get this jumpstart.
Cost: From free to $105/course plus text fee through the Tennessee Dual Enrollment Grant Program*, which pays for up to four courses/high school student. *Participation in this program does not change eligibility for full Tennessee HOPE Scholarship benefits upon graduation; it is an additional benefit.
Savings: Up to $2,600 to $8,400 for 12 hours college credit
How It Works: College credit is awarded for satisfactory grades. Dual Credit students must meet standards to receive even high school credit for the course. Students who do not complete work and/or have poor grades receive neither level of credit.
Dual enrolled students are juniors and seniors taking regular loads plus one college course per semester, which they attend at either a satellite location (often their own high school) or on the main campus of the University of Memphis, Christian Brothers University, Southwest Community College, LeMoyne-Owen College, or Tennessee Technical Center.
To enroll, teens apply for college admission by submitting their ACT/SAT score, high school transcript, and recommendation letter(s). Acceptance is termed “non-degree seeking” because formal enrollment requires a high school diploma. Teens who wish to attend college at the institution after graduation will have to officially reapply, but fees will be waived.
“Applicants have to meet normal admission requirements without reservation,” says William Akey, director of dual enrollment programs at the U of M. “Exceptions are rarely granted because we cannot offer [remedial assistance] to ‘place’ or help them. Students have to be motivated and self-directed and able to immediately keep up with instruction and assignments.”
Dual enrolled students taking a course in a high school setting will be taught by adjunct college faculty — often one of the school’s own teachers with qualifying degrees —using the college’s syllabus and text, explains Akey. However, their peers will be other high schoolers. In contrast, teens who attend courses on college campuses generally are “ultra-high achieving,” he says — necessary because their classroom peers will be as much as two to three years older, accelerating the learning pace.
Some of the most common classes students enroll in are “introductory courses like English composition, American literature, U.S. history, and calculus,” says Joyce Mitchell, academic director of high school initiatives at MUS. Biology, statistics, and computer programming also are popular choices.
To participate in dual enrollment, students must demonstrate a strong high school GPA and then maintain a 2.75 college GPA to continue in the program. The grade they earn also will influence transferability of credits.
“I advise parents to identify first year courses their student may need once they’re in college, then contact the university they’re interested in to verify that credits will fully transfer,” says Mitchell. “All dual enrollment courses [at participating colleges] meet the Tennessee Board of Regents’ [higher education supervisors] standards; however, different universities have different [credit] acceptance criteria.”
International Baccalaureate (IB) Program
An 11th and 12th grade diploma program in which students take at least six accelerated IB courses, complete a 4,000-word thesis, and fulfill community service, among other requirements. “Pre-IB” tracking begins in 9 th grade and varies by school. Applications are available in early January and include several deadlines.
Cost: $506 to $797 plus administrative fees
Savings: Around $1,800 to $7,600 for 12 hours potential college credit
How It Works: After IB course completion, students take an international exam in May. Scaled scores range from 1 to 7, with 4 considered “passing.” Colleges often grant credit for Higher Level (HL) exams taken senior year. Standard Level (SL) exams may be taken junior or senior year and may be submitted for credit consideration.
IB courses are available only to students specifically accepted into these competitive programs at Germantown and Ridgeway High Schools, and Lausanne Collegiate School. A second IB program is expected to launch at Bolton High in 2011, says David Stephens, SCS assistant superintendent of curriculum, adding that the nearly $5 million in college scholarships offered to last spring’s 19 Germantown High IB diploma graduates has drawn more attention to IB’s advantages.
Interested public school students undergo a rigorous application process beginning in 8th grade that includes scholastic records, an essay, interview, and recommendations. Results are scored on a point system, but the procedure itself reveals how committed to IB students —and their parents — are likely to be. Evaluators include specially trained IB faculty. Up through 10th grade, qualified applicants may apply for transfer into the program as spaces become available. Lausanne’s IB candidates are regularly admitted students accepted into its IB diploma track.
Students require personal initiative, self-discipline, and academic prowess, as well as family support, to complete IB’s time-intensive academic and nonacademic requirements. Many teens start IB, but don’t fully complete diploma requirements; however, IB participation is reflected in their records and IB course grades receive maximum GPA weighting.
“IB students love intellectual challenge [and] are well-rounded individuals who become campus leaders,” notes Sheila Merritt, Germantown’s IB counselor. “Colleges tell us that IB students get the first look by admissions officers [because they’ve] taken the most rigorous classes [their] school has to offer.”
“Accelerated coursework, whether it’s AP, IB, or dual enrollment, begins profiting students immediately,” concludes Stephens. “They’re being academically challenged and honing critical thinking skills that are reflected in their grades and prepare them do to well on the ACT and SAT. They’re earning college credit at the same time they’re becoming more competitive for the college admissions process itself. They benefit now and later. Hard work and achievement pays.”