Dual credit program jumpstarts teens on college


Heading-off-to-college-minShifting in the chair, Ashlé Hardoncourt looked back over her notes and then lifted her hand again. Her English 1301: Composition I instructor nodded and gave an encouraging smile. The lesson was a challenging one—the intricacies of crafting a written critique, from effective summary to reasoned analysis—and most of the class struggled to understand the complexity of the ideas involved. When she heard Ashlé’s request for clarification, seconded by a few other classmates, the teacher replied, “Good question! Let’s take a look at that some more before we move on.”

“She taught us to write a critique, and we all struggled [with it],” explains Ashlé, a recent graduate from Richarte High School, who completed English 1301 as a dual credit course through Austin Community College’s Early College Start Program. “But she just kept helping us until we understood the lesson. She knows how to connect with young students, [and] she [was] very sweet and helpful with pointing out what you’re good at and what you need to work on. I really enjoyed the class, and I learned how to write all different kinds of papers, from persuasive to referential papers.”

By taking English 1301 this past spring, Ashlé earned course credits that counted toward both her high school graduation requirements and her college education. She joined a growing number of local high school students who are taking advantage of the dual credit course option at ACC. Mison Zuñiga, the director of the Early College Start Program, explains that students who demonstrate college readiness and who live in the ACC service area can take as many as two dual credit courses each semester after the completion of their sophomore year and through their high school graduation.

“The advantages of earning college credits in high school include direct tuition and fees savings,” says Mison. “It [can be] a tremendous savings. [The] ECS Program gives eligible high school students the opportunity to begin their college careers while enrolled in high school. Depending on how many classes a student enrolls in . . . they could graduate high school with up to thirty-six credit hours or the equivalent to one full year of college. That puts students ahead—another great advantage. Students are also able to benefit from the experience of completing a college-level course taught by college professors.”

For Ashlé, the benefits of the dual credit courses far overshadowed the challenges associated with completing college-level coursework. “High school students should not be scared to take any course,” she says. “Writing does not come easy to me, so it [took] me a while to write some papers, and my teacher [was] always able to walk me through the process. ACC also offers tutorials, so that helps, too. I would definitely recommend that students take dual credit classes as soon as they can. Students should not be scared . . . because your professors . . . are willing to help you so much. I wish I had started sooner.”

For more information, students and parents can visit the Early College Start Program website at sites.austincc.edu/dual-credit. Interested students should visit with their high school counselor regarding which ACC classes their district has approved for dual high school credit.

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