ATLANTA – As the current school year ends, officials at the state’s colleges are gearing up for the impact of a law that streamlines access to free college for high school students.
“Our hope is that one day we will have students who are graduating not just with their high school diploma but also with a technical college degree,” said Gretchen Corbin, commissioner of the Technical College System of Georgia.
Already 11,000 teens have been enrolled in technical college classes while still in high school and another 6,700 students enrolled in four-year colleges and universities.
Administrators expect those numbers to grow as a result of two bills that Gov. Nathan Deal recently signed into law that simplifies the dual-enrollment options.
“What we were seeing across the state was a lot of confusion about dual enrollment with families,” said Tracy Ireland, associate vice chancellor at the University System of Georgia.
That confusion hampered parents and students from taking advantage of free access to college. The new laws cover all expenses, including textbooks and transportation from the high school to the university or technical college which could be in a neighboring county.
“Transportation in some areas was a burden,” Ireland said.
Even C students can get in the program as early as the ninth grade. And while they are earning college credit, they won’t be using up any of their HOPE Scholarship eligibility.
Some variation of dual enrollment has been around for about two decades, but many parents and students may not have known about it because their high school guidance counselors might not have wanted them to. Education insiders acknowledge that some school districts discouraged access to the program because they didn’t want to give up the funding tied to the students.
“At one time, secondary schools received the (per-student funding), and there was a lot of dual enrollment. Then it changed, and enrollment went way down,” said Matt Arthur, deputy commissioner of technical colleges.
The new law simply pays both the high school and the college from a $28 million appropriation lawmakers included in next year’s state budget.
Why pay both when only one is educating the student?
Arthur, who was in Deal’s Office of Planning and Budget until November, said it may be a bargain for taxpayers if it gets more young people to complete their educations to maximize their earning potential. Too many high school graduates fritter years away, only to decide at age 25 to get serious about getting an education and a good-paying job.
“If you look at it from an economic standpoint, look at the money that we have invested in these students for 12 years and then consider that from 18-25 when they don’t get a job,” he said.
Statistics show that dual-enrolled students not only graduate from high school 95 percent of the time, but they also do continue their higher education because they already have momentum.
Most high schoolers have already registered for their fall classes, but they can ask their guidance counselors for how to take part after Christmas.
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