Sunday, March 25, 2007
By Maggie Souza
GLADEWATER — When Matt Morrison graduated from Gladewater High School in 2005, he didn’t sign up for a freshman year of college, didn’t have to worry about having hundreds of new classmates, didn’t have to fight someone for the last used English 101 textbook.
Instead, Morrison went right to sophomore classes at Texas Christian University, thanks to the dual credits he had earned as a student at Gladewater.
Two years later, many of his peers are taking second-year classes while 20-year-old Morrison is in junior-level courses and more than halfway through his college career.
“A lot of them are still talking about getting the basics out of the way, and I’m already in my major and taking electives,” Morrison said.
Since 2001, Gladewater has offered dual credit classes on campus — something that the Longview Independent School District and other districts in the area are considering for the future, said Terry Booker, dean of liberal and fine arts at Kilgore College.
The concept of dual enrollment is nothing new.
“It’s been around a long time,” said Booker, who was teaching such classes in the late 1970s. “But going out to the high school is relatively new.”
Before Kilgore College and Gladewater teamed up to offer dual credit courses at the high school, it had been the student’s responsibility to get to the college. Since then, White Oak, Overton, Henderson, Sabine, Tatum, Carlisle and Hallsville schools have started offering such courses on their campuses.
Students in dual credit courses are doing two things at once: They are fulfilling high school graduation requirements while also earning college credit. So when Morrison was enrolled in a dual credit history class at Gladewater, he was taking care of high school business and earning his history minor as well.
“The benefit for me was just kind of skipping the whole freshman year,” said Morrison, who now has the option of earning his degree in radio/TV/film a semester early.
“Some people say that (college) is the best years of your life and you want to enjoy it,” he added. “But it only lasts so long.
“I think it’s a good idea to go ahead and start working and paying back a lot of things.”
The number of Gladewater juniors and seniors taking dual credit classes has gone from 12 in 2001 to 67 this year, with about one-third of the 146 seniors enrolled. Through Kilgore College, a total of about 350 area students are earning dual credits.
“We’re hoping to grow this program,” said Booker, who has worked closely with schools such as Gladewater.
Participation in dual credit courses has steadily increased not just here but all across the state, Booker explained. This is due in large part to a bill passed in 2006 that requires high schools to provide students an opportunity to earn at least 12 credits through dual enrollment courses.
In order to take a dual credit class, students must pass Kilgore College’s entrance requirements, just like a regular college student, Booker explained. This means they have to score well enough on the THEA, ACT or SAT. Then, for credits to transfer to the college, the student generally must earn a C or better in the class.
If they can do this, the dual credit course is often financially rewarding, explained Gladewater high school counselor Dawn Kirkindoll.
At Gladewater, students pay $121 per course. The school loans students the textbooks they need, saving them money there. On top of that, there are no travel expenses or living expenses, Kirkindoll said.
Compared to Texas A&M, where a similar course would cost more than $300, that can add up to quite a bit of savings.
Dual credit courses help more than the parents’ pocketbooks, Kirkindoll said.
“Students definitely see the benefit,” Kirkindoll said. “It makes their transition from high school to college easier because they’ve already been exposed to what they need to do.”
Gladewater senior Jason Prince, 18, and 16-year-old junior Allison Chenoweth agreed with Kirkindoll on the benefits of dual credit classes.
“I’ll have two semesters of college out of the way before I ever graduate high school,” Prince said. “And I’m going to Texas A&M. That’s a pretty expensive program, and I’m saving a ton of money.”
His top reason for taking dual credit classes was saving money, but it wasn’t the only reason.
“I was also ready to begin my college journey because my program is five years,” said Prince, who will major in petroleum engineering and minor in biology. “This is a way to save me a whole year of classes. I don’t really feel like spending five years in college; I want to get a start on my life.”
For Chenoweth, her dual credit classes have helped boost her academic confidence, she explained.
“It’s made me feel better about college, not so nervous about it,” she said. “Now that I know what some of the professors will expect, it eases my nerves a little bit.”
In addition, she’s learned new study habits that will make her freshman year easier, she said.
Chenoweth is currently taking trigonometry, state and local government and U.S. history classes for dual credit.
“I really had to learn how to study for my history class because it’s a lecture class and I’d never had one of those before,” Chenoweth said. “I slowly figured out how to study for (exams).”
Kilgore professor Jason Graves, who teaches a composition and literature course at Gladewater High School, has noticed a few differences between high school and traditional college students — but not when it comes to intellectual capacity.
“I find that the (high school) students are more enthusiastic and sometimes more willing to take intellectual risks,” Graves said. “… They’re more willing to be wrong where everyone hears that they’re wrong.”
“It’s a give and take,” he continued. “Sometimes they get too enthusiastic, but I would rather have that than have a silent classroom.”
Graves hands out the same syllabus to all of his classes, regardless of the setting or the students.
“Policy, grading procedure, everything’s the same,” he said.
Over the years, Graves has found that students at the high school level do just as well as traditional college students, if not better.
“And it’s because, I think, a high school student who is willing to try a dual credit class is typically strong academically,” Graves said. “Usually the students at the high school who are dual credit students are sort of the cream of the crop.”
Despite its many benefits, there are potential drawbacks to taking dual credit courses, some experts say.
“The question is whether it always helps students in the long run, in terms of academic progress once they get to college,” said Steven Roy Goodman, a college admissions consultant in Washington, D.C.
“Generally speaking, if a student does well in a high school dual enrollment class, that will be good enough for the student to succeed at the second-level course at the university,” said Goodman, who has worked in the field for 18 years.
“It’s questionable whether that’s always the case in the science arena.”
In humanities and social sciences, dual enrollment students are fine once they get to college, Goodman said.
“I don’t necessarily need to know everything about European history to (succeed) in Asian history,” he explained. “In terms of chemistry, I need to know the building blocks of chemistry before I can do advanced chemistry.”
The case is the same with math dual enrollment courses.
“If it’s not giving you the intellectual or academic grounding you need, then you’re not doing yourself any favors,” Goodman said.
George Forgie, a history professor at the University of Texas in Austin, also expressed some reservations about dual credits.
“I like the idea of students taking history at any level, so I don’t want to discourage it,” Forgie said. “On the other hand, I think we do a very good job here. (Our classes) are directed at students who are clearly in college, and pitched at a college level.”
In addition, sometimes the credits do not always transfer — meaning there’s no money saved, and perhaps unnecessary spending. At Rice University, for example, dual enrollment credits do not carry over.
However, all Texas state universities are required to accept such credits, which count as electives if they don’t match up with a course that the university offers. Other states’ universities, such as Louisiana Tech University, often accept dual credits taken through Kilgore College, too.
And not all private colleges have the same policy as Rice. LeTourneau, Baylor and Southern Methodist universities, for example, accept dual credits.
Texas Christian University has been really good about accepting those credits, Morrison said.
“This definitely worked for me,” he said. “I’m already thinking about graduating and where I want to go. With that jump on things, I’ve got a lot more time to look at the future.”
“It’s a very good advantage to have in this day and age,” Morrison added. “The more you’re ahead, the better.”