5,479,173. That’s how many Texas children are enrolled in public schools, according to the most recently available data. That’s a lot of kids—a full 28 U.S. states don’t have entire populations that large. Of course, traditional public schools aren’t the only way young students are getting educated. Homeschooling, private schools and open-enrollment charter campuses are among the options that account for a significant number of students—and all of those students deserve to be on the pathway to higher education.
For decades, Tarrant County College has worked with regional independent school districts to offer dual credit programs; TCC more recently has established early college high schools and Pathway to Technology (P-Tech) sites. All provide students the ability to earn college credit before high school graduation. In the case of TCC’s 13 early college high schools—including five located on the College’s physical campuses—there is no cost to students, and they begin college-level work as early as ninth grade. That allows them to earn up to 60 college hours and an associate degree by the time they finish 12th grade. P-Tech sites across Tarrant County offer similar no-cost programs for technical careers. Dual credit opportunities, meanwhile, are even more widespread and allow high school juniors and seniors to take individual TCC classes that also meet high school graduation requirements.
“It’s about the continuum of education,” explains Bill Coppola, president of TCC Southeast and champion of the High School Principle, part of TCC’s guiding vision of Three Goals and Eight Principles.
Students can’t wait to think about college until spring of their senior year of high school. What we want to do is get into our schools and the community and get students on a college-going track as early as we can.
President of TCC Southeast
While independent school districts do educate the majority of students, TCC is expanding its programs to bring credit-earning opportunities to even more local high schoolers and deepen the area’s college-going culture. To that end, the College is formally partnering with home school families and organizations, charter schools and private schools.
“Before that, parents just dropped the students off on campus when they were juniors or seniors to take classes,” Coppola says. “That was particularly true for advanced courses such as calculus, biology and physics, where we could provide labs students wouldn’t be able to access at home or perhaps at a smaller school.”
Fellowship Academy in Kennedale is one of the private schools that works with TCC to offer dual credit coursework to its students. Chase James, a Fellowship Academy senior, has already accumulated credit for college algebra, English and history. His mom, Liz MacDonnell, says dual credit was an easy choice.
“We are able to pay for the college classes now, out of pocket, without disrupting our financial planning for his four-year degree,” MacDonnell states. “And Chase is able to learn self-discipline for college classes and the type of expectations college professors have.”
That’s exactly what drove Fellowship Academy to partner with TCC. Just like any public school, “we wanted to provide our students the opportunity to challenge themselves academically while earning college credits at the same time,” says Beatrice Jurik, the secondary assistant principal and director of college and career at Fellowship Academy.
TCC now has official agreements with five charter schools and four private campuses, as well as with home school organizations and 17 school districts. In spring 2021, the TCC Board of Trustees approved a recommendation that all dual credit students, regardless of their home address, would pay the lower, in-District tuition levels based on the in-TCC-District status of their local school district. That means home schoolers who live in Johnson County but are part of Mansfield ISD, for example, would have access to dramatically more affordable tuition—$64 per semester hour, versus the out-of-district Texas county rate of $126.
The Board’s decision closes an equity gap and brings more students into the dual credit program, which is connected to ongoing success in education. “We know that if a student takes up to 12 hours of dual credit, they have a 100 percent chance of graduating high school and going on to postsecondary education,” Coppola shares.
More students than ever are taking advantage of TCC dual credit courses; dual credit comprises a full 20 percent of the College’s enrollment. That includes about 2,000 students enrolled in early college high schools and another 6,000 in other dual credit programs at public campuses, private schools, open-enrollment charters and home schools.
In all dual credit opportunities, high school students are subject to the same level of rigor and responsibility as any other TCC student; college faculty teach the classes, and students have access to the full range of support services. Dual credit students have the opportunity to continue their studies at TCC after high school graduation or transfer the credit they earned to virtually any state college or university as well as many private schools.
Chase plans to transfer his credits to the University of Texas at Arlington, where he will study physics, biochemistry or biophysics. His mother is happy that he’s already a few classes closer to earning his degree thanks to TCC—a benefit she personally understands.
“I went to TCC when I started my college degree years ago,” MacDonnell says. “I am a proponent of getting a jump on your college education.”