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Fast Track to College

Fast Track to College

Dual Credit in Texas Jumpstarts Students’ Education and State’s Economy


It’s all in the presentation.

Because the people she met from Tarrant County College showed her how accessible the College was to her while she was in high school, TCC alumnae Linh Quach, now wellness director for the Villages of Dallas, visualized herself in college — for the first time.

“When I was in high school, there weren’t really a lot of colleges that presented themselves in the way that TCC did to high school students. So, right off the bat I knew — that’s easy,” Quach said. “I can talk to the professor and learn everything that I need to know. That, for me, was the biggest selling point…that TCC was that accessible to me.”

Quach was a student at Bowie High School in Arlington when she first learned about dual credit enrollment, an educational option annually afforded to thousands of high school students statewide through which their classes simultaneously meet high school graduation requirements as they earn college credit.

Besides putting students on the fast track to their college careers, Quach and others involved with dual credit — as students or professionals — rank cost as a major advantage of dual credit programs.

“The financial aspect of TCC was what really brought me there. We talked about how affordable TCC could be. How I could take the same classes at TCC and be able to go to a four-year institution and have that credit be accounted for,” Quach said. “My family doesn't have a lot of college it was a very new and scary thing. How was I going to afford this?”

Depending on the arrangements with the College or the school district in which the student resides, tuition could be free (paid by another party, such as the school district) or for the reasonable cost of $64 per hour at TCC for in-county residents. This equates to $384 for the maximum of two classes per semester that dual credit students are allowed to take. This also makes dual credit more feasible for some students than the Advanced Placement (AP) option, which can cost more than $90 per test including the added expense of preparatory classes to increase scores.

David Saenz, FWISD senior innovation officer and former executive director of Career and Technical Education, said the cost of higher education impacts students’ completion rates, particularly when many students are economically disadvantaged.

The reason many do not finish college is because of the lack of finances. They take a semester off to work and plan to come back, but never do.

David Saenz, FWISD senior innovation officer

Dual credit enrollment not only benefits the individual students who embrace the more rigorous course of study, but also has the potential of strengthening Texas through a globally competitive workforce. The data show that when students get a jump start on their college education while still in high school, they are more likely to continue their post-secondary studies.

For Texas to achieve such a powerful position, it must drastically raise the preparedness of its populace to avoid the plight of diminished incomes, opportunities and resources predicted, according to a stern caution in the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) 60x30TX strategic plan. The goal of the THECB is for 60 percent of its residents, who are 25- to 34-years old, to hold a certificate or degree by 2030. Currently, only 30 percent of Tarrant County residents hold a bachelor's degree. Because of the rapid growth in students taking dual credit courses — a 753 percent increase from fall 2000 to fall 2017 — dual credit programs can play a key role in THECB achieving its goal.

State leaders have acknowledged that what people in the targeted group do in the seven to 16 years after their traditional high school years will have a tremendous impact on the state’s well-being. According to the THECB report, this group, projected to grow by 41 percent, “is used by the 60x30 goals as a yardstick to answer the question: How prepared is Texas for the future?”

Dual credit began in 1955 at the University of Connecticut under the direction of Provost Albert Waugh. Waugh believed the senior year in high school was not challenging enough for many students, resulting in student boredom and disinterest in learning – now called “senioritis.” He believed that it was the university's responsibility to engage with the high schools to offer introductory university courses at the high school, allowing a more rigorous academic experience and giving students a head start for college.

"Dual credit enrollment at TCC dates back at least to 1983," said Judith Gallagher, vice president for Academic Affairs at TCC Northwest. She had just started teaching at TCC and students at Eagle Mountain-Saginaw ISD were participating.

In the last eight years, TCC dual credit enrollment has grown from 3,713 students taking 5,874 classes in the 2010-2011 school year to 6,647 taking 11,453 classes in the 2017-2018 school year. The College partners with 15 area school districts to make dual credit enrollment available to their students. Several districts offer dual credit courses at multiple high schools within their District.

"Interested students and parents should notify the high school counselor of their interest in participating in dual credit," said Richard Vela, TCC director of College Readiness and Dual Credit Operations. Students will need to meet certain college requirements that include having writing, reading and math scores on file and an appropriate grade point average.

In 2006, law makers passed provisions that require all school districts to implement a plan by fall 2008 that allowed students to earn as many as 12 hours of college credit while in high school. Eleven years later, the 85th Texas Legislature passed House Bill 1638 requiring THECB and the Texas Education Agency ”to collaboratively develop statewide goals for dual credit by Aug. 31, 2018,” addressing “these programs’ role in enrollment and acceleration through higher education.”

Additionally, they were to address the “impact on performance in college-level coursework and the development of an effective bridge between secondary and post-secondary education,” according to “Overview: Dual Credit,” a report published May 2018 by THECB.

Other advantages for students taking dual credit are that students are better prepared for success in college; have an academic edge and are more desirable to universities; gain familiarity with college expectations; and, may take advantage of college facilities and resources. As a college student, dual credit students have full access to TCC’s resources, such as checking books out of TCC libraries, exercising in the gyms and using the computer labs, Vela said.

“Dual credit is a great option for students to challenge themselves academically and earn college credit at the same time,” said Jeanne Maxwell, Arlington ISD’s secondary specialist in the Advanced Academics department.

Our Dual Credit students not only benefit from rigorous coursework as registered college students, but they also get real-world experience with the responsibilities of being a college student. This will benefit them immensely when they transition from our district to the college environment.

Jeanne Maxwell, Arlington ISD Secondary Specialist in Advanced Academics

Knowing they will get credit at the next level for their hard work also is a benefit of dual credit programs. On the other hand, credit for students who take AP classes is contingent upon them passing The College Board Exam with a 3 or above.

“If students are ready to take the dual challenge and they plan on attending a Texas university, they can be assured that their hours earned will be honored at any university,” said Mariella Alvarado, director of Eagle Mountain-Saginaw ISD Counseling and Campus Support. “We have an amazing opportunity with TCC. They are our direct neighbors. Our Chisholm Trail High School students see the campus from their parking lot. It is a familiar institution and we have immediate access. This further minimizes barriers to college access.”

Leaders tout their relationship with TCC as a critical part of the equation that makes it possible for students to benefit from this educational opportunity.

“Having a community partner like Tarrant County College is key to ensuring our students graduate exceptionally prepared for college or a career,” Arlington ISD Superintendent Marcelo Cavazos said. “Dual credit and early college high school partnerships provide rigorous learning experiences for our students and get them a step ahead when preparing for their future.”

Fort Worth ISD Superintendent Kent Paredes Scribner concurred.

Our partnership with TCC provides a valuable opportunity for many of our students to be eligible to earn college credit while they are still in high school. This program provides them with the chance to get a significant head start on their post-secondary educational career and to save money at the same time. We look forward to continuing this important relationship with TCC as we move forward.

Kent Paredes Scribner, Fort Worth ISD Superintendent

As advantageous as dual credit programs can be for high school students, the courses are not for everyone.

Saenz said students and parents need to be aware of the commitment required before enrolling. “These are college courses. They are not watered down and are taught by credentialed, vetted professors,” he said.

Gallagher agreed, adding, “The successful dual credit students are those who are committed to their education, able to work independently and to present all of the behaviors that make every student successful.

“These include active engagement in their learning, regular attendance, punctuality, timely submission of assignments and the willingness to invest the time and energy necessary to complete the reading and writing assignments and prepare outside of class for the quizzes, essays, assignments and exams,” she said.

While the transition can be challenging, educators stressed that resources are available both at the student’s high school and college to help them succeed in their courses.

Preparation for the rigors of college can begin as early as in the sixth grade, Saenz said. He suggested that parents enroll students in Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID). The program provides tutoring and helps students develop good study habits.

Some may find that taking AP courses may better meet their educational needs. With AP, any student can take the AP exams, whether they have taken the course or not. AP courses and exams are standardized. This means they meet specific academic criteria, while dual credit courses do not follow a standard curriculum. More selective colleges may accept high AP scores.

Another difference to consider is that dual credit may be more widely accepted by public colleges and universities in Texas while AP courses may be more widely accepted nationwide. Eligibility for dual credit is limited to juniors and seniors, requires high school approval and students must meet TSI eligibility requirements. On the other hand, AP participation is open to any student.

But for students who took dual credit at TCC, it proved to be the right decision.

Natalee Gallardo, a freshman at Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene, said she is thankful that she took dual credit courses. “Taking these courses has opened the opportunity to get into the nursing school here at HSU, a semester early. If I stay on track and on top of my grades, I will be able to get into the nursing school in the spring of 2020.”

By applying for the spring, Gallardo said, she has a better chance of being accepted. “There will not be as much competition to get in during the spring as in the fall.”

Now in her second year at Texas A&M University, Maria Medina Leyva said her experience as a dual credit student at TCC has helped her be successful in College Station.

I came in more prepared than the majority of my classmates, saved more money and am graduating a whole year earlier.

Maria Medina Leyva, Former TCC Dual Credit Student

“I still am able to contact the program for any questions that I may have. I strongly recommend dual credit classes to any student that has the opportunity to take them,” Leyva said.

Quach, working her dream job in Dallas, has nothing but praise for her time at TCC that began when she was a dual credit student.

“I wouldn’t be the professional that I am today. I wouldn’t have the confidence that I have today and I really wouldn’t be able to be such a goal-oriented person like I am now without them.”

High school students and parents interested in dual credit studies should notify their high school counselor for details about the enrollment process.