By Katie Wildes
Student loans are burdening the younger generation of Americans with a mountain of debt.
On Oct. 30, the Obama Administration announced a higher education experiment that could increase federal grants to some high schools where students are dual-enrolled in local college classes. Area students may soon benefit from this program.
Dabney S. Lancaster Community College (DSLCC) offers a variety of courses to Rockbridge County High School students, including general education courses typically associated with freshman and sophomore college-level courses and introductory courses in the technical and occupational career programs. The students who take these classes at the high school are given college credit if they complete the course and earn a grade of “C” or better.
The Obama initiative comes as an effort to have high school students graduate with more college credits, making it possible for them to graduate from college in fewer years, therefore in less debt.
Dual enrollment programs in high schools across the nation allow a student to be registered in two separate academic institutions at one time. Typically, this refers to high school students taking classes at four-year colleges and universities. Seniors and juniors make up majority of the classes, while freshman and sophomores in high school may be considered.
In 2012, then-Gov. Bob McDonnell signed House Bill 1184, which required all community colleges in Virginia to provide a pathway for high school students to earn an associates degree concurrently with their high school diploma.
A number of courses that convey community college credits are taught at RCHS. Among these are calculus, English, economics and personal finance, agriculture, HVAC (Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning), culinary, health assistant and computer information systems.
The number of students enrolled in these community-college classes has increased significantly over the past year, according to Joe Hagy, the Dual Enrollment Coordinator at DSLCC.
Hagy believes this is due to the financial benefit of taking classes early. Minimizing tuition costs for college has been made a priority.
Beginning in the fall of 2016, the $20-million Obama initiative would help to decrease the cost of college for over 10,000 low-income students across the country. This allocation of money would be taken from Pell Grant money – more than $30-billion – already helping over 8 million students.
This new plan proposed by the government has DSLCC administrators talking, Hagy said. No moves have been made and they are waiting to receive more information on the experiment and the grants until they make any decisions.
As of now, students apply to take college classes and they have to pay for the enrollment. However, the high school can provide certain costs such as that of the instructor. There are certain things that schools can do to increase the reimbursement of tuition, but they vary from division to division, Hagy said. It is a responsibility the school takes on. If the plan goes into action, RCHS may be looking at family income as a consideration in the application process.
Rockbridge County High School is trying to increase the number of college offerings through DSLCC and the Dual Enrollment program, Guidance Counselor Mathew Rapoza said.
The school is in the process of looking at credentialing more teachers, increasing possible college course offerings at the high school. They are looking to increase courses for students wanting to apply and if they receive Pell grants, more offerings could encourage low- income students to apply.
“Our hope is to be able to offer approximately 30 credits to students and increasing that over time,” Rapoza said.
Behind mortgages, student loans rank second in U.S. consumer debt and it has doubled in the last 10 years.
“A postsecondary education is one of the most important investments students can make in their future. Yet the cost of this investment is higher than ever, creating a barrier to access for some students, particularly those from low-income families,” U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said.
Dual Enrollment programs have escalated in popularity in recent years and the government has made a conscious effort towards secondary education progression.
“We look forward to partnering with institutions to help students prepare to succeed in college.”