Education now moves at warp speed for high school students eager to put their mark on the world.
Isaak Hernandez, for example, graduated from Fresno’s Design Science Early College High School and Fresno City College at the same time.
And now he’s at one of the most prestigious universities in the world: Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Now, more than ever, dual enrollment programs in the Fresno area and across the nation make it possible for students to get a head start on college and cut tuition costs.
“The program was exactly what I expected and more,” said Hernandez, who was able to complete over 60 units of college credit while attending Design Science. “If somebody wants to get the most out of their four years of high school, I would recommend dual enrollment. It is an experience like no other.”
Turning high schools into early college schools, said Design Science Principal Tressa Overstreet, started on the east coast at LaGuardia Community College and is expandingall over the U.S.
“There’s a national movement,” Overstreet said. “More and more community college campuses are embracing a younger learner in the classroom.”
What Is Dual Enrollment?
Programs such as the one Hernandez participated in enable students to take courses from local community colleges while they’re in high school at no cost.
“We had students this past year that graduated from high school and they also graduated from Reedley College at the same time,” said Tim Lopez, an associate superintendent with Sanger Unified School District. “It is a wonderful opportunity for kids and opens the door for them to realize that they can accomplish that.”
Lopez said the district has offered dual enrollment for the last four years.
“It enables students to get a little farther ahead by offering them the opportunity to have rigorous, college-level courses during their high school experience,” Lopez said.
Carole Goldsmith said that dual enrollment is a game-changer for students in the 33 high schools teamed up with Fresno City College.
“It sews seeds of hope because it tells a young person that they have the ability and we believe in them,” said Goldsmith, the Fresno City College president. “With some support and with their determination and hard work, that student can really be successful in college.”
At University High School, a charter located on the campus of Fresno State, students can take university courses.
In fact, students are required to take college classes to graduate from the high school.
“Some students complete most of their freshman year,” said Linda Rea, the registrar at University High School.
Dual Enrollment Transcripts Impress Universities
Besides saving money and advancing quickly to their goals, students reap another benefit.
“Recruiters from universities look at students’ transcripts for academic rigor and one of the ways to be able to show that is to have transcripted college credits,” Goldsmith said.
Dual enrollment also can change the mindset of students unsure about attending college.
“We’ve seen countless stories of students who didn’t think college was in their future,” Goldsmith said. “Then they end up taking a college course with us and now they believe it is possible for them to do well.”
Bringing College Classes To High Schools
Every Fresno Unified high school participates in the program, which allows students to take college courses at their high school campus.
For courses not offered at a high school, students have the opportunity to go to a community college to take them, explained Miguel Arias, the district’s chief information officer.
Even though Fresno Unified works primarily with Fresno City College, Arias said that students are free to go to any campus within the State Center Community College District for dual enrollment courses.
“It is just based on what works for their schedule,” Arias said.
Because many high school teachers also are adjunct professors at community colleges, Arias said, they are qualified to teach dual enrollment courses.
“It is very common for us to have a high school teacher at Edison teaching algebra during the day, and teaching a college math course in the evening,” Arias said. “This allows us to take advantage of the great assets that we have in our teachers.”
Arias said Fresno Unified will also offer college courses to its students and the general public this fall. Such courses will be offered at Edison High School, Sunnyside High School, and Fresno Pacific University.
Setting Students Up For Success
For the past two years, 100 percent of Design Science’s graduates have been admitted to college. In addition, Overstreet said that most of them leave the high school with about 50 college units completed.
“Some of them leave us as sophomores and juniors in college,” Overstreet said.
CTEC, or Career Technical Education Charter High School, just started its first year and offers dual enrollment.
Stefani Bernard, the guidance and learning specialist at CTEC, said she believes the program will be a very useful tool for students.
“We want students to feel like they have the confidence to leave high school and continue in college,” Bernard said.
Bernard said dual enrollment students aren’t taking more classes than other students — just more rigorous ones.
“The dual enrollment helps to train them and get them ready so when they leave here they are prepared to go forward in whatever endeavor they decide to do,” Bernard said.
A Student’s Perspective
Josie Gonzalez said she knows what it’s like to be the youngest student in a classroom. At age 15, Gonzalez was already taking classes at Fresno City College while at Design Science.
She said the experience was intimidating at first. But now, as a Fresno State graduate, Gonzalez said it was the best decision she made.
“I think it is a great program,” said Gonzalez, who graduated from Design Science and Fresno City College simultaneously. “If you decide to further your career, to further advance your education then you have the tools on how to do it and how to do it on your own.”
Alexis Cruz, a senior at Design Science, said that the biggest challenge she’s faced was proving herself to college professors.
“Some of the professors don’t really believe in Design Science students,” Cruz said. “They are like ‘they are not mature enough to be here’ so proving yourself to your fellow classmates as well as your instructor is definitely the hardest part of going and taking college classes.'”
Nevertheless, Cruz said, “It is a little hard, there is a lot of work, but it is worth it.”
Not For Every Student
Students taking the leap into dual enrollment must be prepared to work hard and overcome challenges.
Fresno City College, for example, clearly spells out student responsibilities, as well as the consequences for not mastering the material.
— If a student fails a dual enrollment course, it will negatively affect high school and college transcripts.
— Too many failed dual enrollment classes will jeopardize future college enrollment and possibly financial aid.
— If a student needs additional support and is failing English, Math and has a low GPA, then college classes may not be the best choice.
— Financial aid has a 90-unit limit and thus dual enrollment courses must be carefully selected with the advice of a college counselor.
Nevertheless, Goldsmith said dual enrollment is a program that can do wonders for a student’s educational journey.
“We can’t force students to go to college, but we know that young people who have a college degree have a much greater likelihood of living a very good life,” Goldsmith said. “I think it is something that we should all be proud of in terms of our effort in being able to improve our community through education.”