A record number of Illinois high school students enrolled in
college courses last fall, racking up credits that fulfill high
school requirements and also get them started on a college
transcript, state records show.
A record number of Illinois high school students enrolled in college courses last fall, racking up credits that fulfill high school requirements and also get them started on a college transcript, state records show.
High schools are ramping up the number of dual-credit classes as a way to challenge teens and give them a taste of college. And amid the economic downturn, teens are clamoring to earn college credit at a discount, or even for free, and potentially shave a semester’s worth of tuition.
Joliet West High School senior Courtney Purciarello first debated whether to enroll in English 101, weighing the college-level challenge against what she expected would be an extra workload. Then she realized that her tuition and all of the textbooks would be free.
“I thought, ‘I’m going to have to pay for the (class) in college anyway.’ So, if the high school offers it, well, it sort of fits perfectly,” Purciarello said.
The south suburban school enrolled a record number of students in the course this fall. While technically it is a Joliet Junior College course, a high school teacher instructs the class and teens never leave their campus.
Across Illinois, the number of dual-credit classes offered by community colleges grew 71 percent from 2004 to 2008, when 75,989 high school students enrolled in them, the Illinois Community College Board reported in January. A similar account of dual-credits offered by Illinois universities will be available for the first time next year.
“We kind of have reached that tipping point,” said Rob Kerr, who oversees dual-credit courses for the state’s Community College Board.
English 101 was by far the most popular community college dual-credit course, with more than 9,000 students enrolled. The second biggest hit was Office Occupations, with 5,319 enrollments, according to state records.
Every college determines whether to offer the courses.
At the College of DuPage, the number of dual-credit registrations grew 53 percent from 2008 to 2009 to hit 1,753. The college partners with nearly two dozen high schools.
Dual-credit classes are different from the Advanced Placement classes that schools have offered for decades, which allow students who pass a rigorous test to earn college credit. With dual-credit classes, schools target teens who may not want the intensity of the AP program, as well as top-ranked students who have exhausted the school’s AP options or want a broader selection of classes.
To be sure, dual-credits are not replacing AP courses. Several local universities say today’s students apply with more dual-credits than ever before, but AP credits continue to outnumber them. A quarter of Illinois’ high school seniors last year took at least one AP exam, records show.
Dual-credits have flourished as educators have seized on them as a way to add rigor to high schools and ease students’ transition to college.
“It is certainly a growing phenomenon,” said Matt Vanover, spokesman for the Illinois State Board of Education. “We’re raising the standard for learning in Illinois … dual-credit plays a component in that.”
Responding to the surge of classes, state lawmakers last year required that dual-credit courses meet certain quality standards. For instance, high school students must take a placement exam, as they would if they enrolled in the college, and high school teachers running the courses must have the same credentials expected from a college instructor.
This mirrors the national push to establish standards for dual-credit programs.
Some high schools have hesitated to offer dual-enrollment courses, citing concerns that the credit may not transfer to most of the colleges that graduates attend. Advanced Placement courses, by comparison, are a well-known brand that are accepted by virtually every college in the country if a student scores well on the AP exam.
Universities handle dual credits differently, and students who have them must navigate the requirements of each school they consider attending.
Northern Illinois University, for instance, accepts dual credits so long as the students apply with a college transcript listing the course and grade awarded, said associate director of admissions Missy Gillis.
Students applying to the University of Chicago with dual-credits must submit a petition to the dean of students. But while transfer credits are evaluated on a case by case basis, the university does not, as a rule, accept course work that counted toward high school graduation requirements, according to a university spokesperson.
The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign draws a similar line in that it awards credit if the class exceeds graduation requirements and meets college standards.
Still, national experts say today’s students are more able to transfer credits than in previous years, and many high schools are adding dual-credit classes to meet the demand.
New Trier Township High School added dual-credits to its menu of courses for the first time last year, offering two classes that aren’t part of the AP portfolio: architectural studio and computer aided design. Ninety students enrolled, and officials at the North Shore school responded by added three more classes for dual credit through Oakton Community College. To date, 138 students have registered.
Whether or not the credit transfers to the college where students ultimately enroll, practical arts department chair Jason Boumstein said students used the classes to get internships in the field.
Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire added a college-level philosophy course last year. Students could earn dual credit through Trinity College in Deerfield, paying a third of the cost that a student at the college would pay.
This fall, 77 students enrolled, up from 53 a year ago.
The class meets a goal set by the Stevenson school board to increase the number of students who have at least one college experience before graduation.
While Trinity officials said they want to prepare more teens for higher education, they also see a practical advantage in the school’s campaign for the brightest applicants.
“If we make a good connection with the students, then it’s possible those students would come to Trinity,” said Joyce Shelton, associate academic dean at the college.
On a recent afternoon, students debated where the physical world ends and the metaphysical world begins as they studied Plato’s divided line.
Seniors Zach Blumenfeld and Allison Perlin sat in the front row, fielding questions from teacher Clayton Duba, who challenged students in the Socratic tradition about the essence of a desk chair and magic of a unicorn.
Between them, Blumenfeld and Perlin will graduate with 21 AP classes plus the college-level philosophy class. Both said they jumped at the chance to take philosophy, seeing it as preparation for a political science major in college.
“This is what I’d like college to be like,” Blumenfeld said.
At Joliet West High School, English teacher Brian Newman made the rounds of every junior class last spring to promote the rhetoric class offered with Joliet Junior College. This fall, 82 students enrolled, more than double the number who took it last year. Across the south suburban district, dual-credits now outnumber AP courses by a three-to-one margin, officials said.
Newman, who is listed as an adjunct professor at JCC, said the economic benefit hooks many students.
“If you have an opportunity to get credits here and you can save money,” Newman said, “this is a good opportunity for you.”