Concurrent enrollment is a program through which qualified students earn college credit prior to high school graduation. The program, which is appropriate for a wide variety of high school students, provides the opportunity to accelerate the high school experience while preparing for the workforce. Because high school students earn college credit, participation in the programs can significantly reduce the overall time and expenses associated with postsecondary education.
Concurrent Enrollment Basics
Students can earn college credit, explore various career fields, develop job skills and ease the transition to college. Because states may provide funds for the cost of instruction and facilities, these programs are generally offered to public high school students at no charge. Students attend college level classes during the regular school day that are taught via interactive TV, online, at the college campus or at the student's high school. The college credits might also be used to satisfy requirements for high school graduation. While classes are taught to high school students, the courses are of the same quality and rigor as those taught to college-age students. The course curriculum, text books, assignments, exams and grading requirements are the same for concurrent enrollment classes or those taught on the campus. Students are held to the same standards of achievement as students who are enrolled in the college, and are expected to achieve certain minimum grade point average (GPA) requirements to maintain eligibility.

Students may pursue a college transfer pathway focusing on areas of study such as engineering and mathematics, humanities and social science and life and health science; or students may participate in career certification (vocational) programs including carpentry, medical assisting and welding. Upon successful completion, students graduate with a high school diploma and two years of college credits, which is equivalent to an associate degree or a certificate. The credits often satisfy the basic general education requirements of a bachelor's degree. However, students may still be required to take certain prerequisite courses before registering for upper division classes in specific majors.

Participating high schools have the primary responsibility of identifying students who are both eligible to participate and who would benefit from the enrollment. To be eligible, students must be high school juniors or seniors who demonstrate "college readiness" on an approved test, and meet minimum GPA requirements.

Students and their parents or guardians must submit an application to both the high school and the participating college, including a high school transcript. Students may also be required to purchase any textbooks and required materials. However, depending on the program, these may be furnished by the high school.

The programs are designed to meet the needs of college-bound students who are interested in pursuing an academically challenging course of study. Successful students tend to be motivated, independent learners who are enthusiastic about the subject and are willing to work hard.

Concurrent enrollment programs benefit students, families and the community. Cindy Thompson, the College Access Coordinator with Southwestern Community College (ranked top 10 in the nation by Washington Monthly's community college ranking report released every three years) explains, "There are a multitude of benefits [to concurrent enrollment]. One immediate, direct benefit to students and their families is that these classes are tuition free. College costs are expected to continue to rise, so taxpayers also benefit by paying for a student's post-secondary education today, rather than tomorrow."

Thompson further explains the positive effects of these programs for students pursuing career certification programs such as carpentry and welding: "Students who complete a [career certificate] while in high school will be able to enter the job market with additional skills and earn a higher wage. This will allow them to have a higher standard of living than they could have earned with only a high school diploma, but not spend additional years in school."

Other students benefit from earning credits towards an advanced degree. Thompson continues, "Some students may use this certificate to help them earn the money needed to complete an even more advanced degree without taking out a loan or at least having a smaller loan. College Transfer students have the option of completing their bachelor's degree in less time and also save money. This will allow them to seek a master's or professional degree at an overall lower cost, thus providing well educated employees with less college debt." Carefully selecting what programs to enroll in is imperative for future success in that particular field of study. For more, read 6 New Jobs You've Probably Never Heard Of.

Early College
Early College provides another opportunity for high school students to earn college credit, but works very differently than the concurrent enrollment program. Students apply to Early College as 8th grade students, enter the school as 9th graders and over the next four or five years, complete their high school diploma and earn an associate degree (the general education part of a bachelor's degree).

Early College high schools are small schools typically immersed on a college campus. Early College serves a variety of students, including those that are under-represented or underserved. The goal of the programs is to make students college-ready by exposure to a collegiate curriculum, educational and career support and completion of a high school diploma and an associate degree or two years of college credit.

Students must meet requirements established by the participating college or university. There are other ways to get the most out of a college education through less-expensive means. Read Pay For College Without Selling A Kidney.

The Bottom Line
These programs offer a solution to the rising costs of college. Southwestern Community College's President Dr. Don Tomas sums up these programs: "Taking college classes tuition free while in high school is like giving yourself a scholarship and a head start on your future career." In addition, the programs help students gain insight regarding the realities of college. Thompson adds, "The program also allows students to simply take one class to explore an interest and learn about the rigorous expectations of college while still supported by their high school faculty and staff."

Students and families interested in learning about concurrent enrollment and Early College opportunities can contact their local school system's administrative offices.

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