Early College Programs for High School Students

by blackspanielgallery

Early College Option, an early college program for high school students is a way of earning as much as an Associates Degree while still in high school.

For years high school students could, if they qualified, earn college credit. At first Advanced Placement Courses were the best option available to those students wishing to start college with a few credits earned prior to really getting there. In lieu of taking these courses, proving proficiency in a college course through a placement exam might be selected. Then, some colleges started offering college courses to qualified high school students. A student would, in the junior or senior year, take one or two college courses per semester. Now, there is the early College Option, a program that allows a high school student to take more courses for college level, and even earn an Associates Degree.

These programs have advantages, and disadvantages. We will examine these programs here so a better understanding of what these programs provide, and what might be the results of embarking on one of them. Please be aware that what is right for one student is not necessarily right for another. The reason for familiarizing yourself with the details is to enable you to make an informed choice. And, to complicate matters each program is unique, so be ready to ask questions. After reading the article you should be ready to ask the right questions before enrolling your son or daughter in an early College Option Program.

Although we will look at all of the programs, the Early College Option is the focus of most of this article.

What Is Early College Option for High School Students?

How does the Early College Option Work?

The Early College Option for high school students is a program whereby the students enroll for dual credit.  It requires a partnership between a high school and a college.  I teach at a college that houses high school students on campus, a plus in making the program work.


The program we have results with high school students completing their high school work and graduating with a high school diploma, while they earn sixty hours of college credit concurrently, and graduate with an Associates Degree from an accredited college.  In the first two years of high school they take some college work in special sections taught only to them by college faculty, and finish some necessary high school credits.  In the last two years they take college courses, and mix with the general college population.  The college courses carry both high school and college credit, so they get credit twice for the same work.  There is an agreement with the four-year state run universities in the state to accept the courses these students obtain, so they enter a four year institution as a junior.  Basically, they get the courses that are general degree requirements.  

Is an Early College Option Good for Anyone?

Why Would a High School Student Not Wish to Participate?

College courses are different.  The pace is much faster than the pace of a high school course. 


I once had a student taking a college course while still in high school who was often called from class because he was on the prom committee.  While this class was not part of an Early College Project, the discovery made by the student is very important to this discussion.  One day he told me that he finally figured out how college courses are different from high school courses.  He realized every class he missed put him behind, but his high school classes worked on the same material for perhaps two weeks.  In college, it is there for one day only.  The high school courses run longer than both semesters of college combined, and have five days of class a week.  College classes typically meet three, or even two, days per week.  College is a much faster pace.


In high school students are formulating skills for writing and problem solving.  College level courses must start with the expectation those skills are there, or it would be unfair to those who are ready.  A grade in a course must be fairly given, and working at the college level is expected to be worthy of the grade.   Course delivery is different, and much faster with higher expectations.


Another consideration is whether the student will enjoy such activities as athletics, school dances, and school clubs.  A small group located on a college campus might not have the true high school experience.  Even if the student has a technical association with a high school there may be a transportation dilemma, and more importantly, an acceptance by peers who are involved in the activity.  So, while our program is on a college campus, others might not be. 


A certain level of maturity is also needed.  College professors may take attendance, but not chase after a student who misses class.  And parents cannot expect a call should a student fall behind.  Students are treated as adults, and must have adult level responsibility.


Course Options May Be Limited

It Is Not Necessary That All College Courses Be Made Available

In the program we have the students basically have a preset list of courses they will take.  There is currently a consideration being made to offer a second track.  So, if a student would like an extra history course, or more biology, that may not fit with the program.  There is less freedom in course selection, so those sixty hours of college credit might not allow a graduate of the program to take junior courses in a chosen field of study after moving on to a university.  And if it did, higher level college courses might be daunting for an eighteen-year old.  

What Happens if a Student Fails?

Will Failed Courses Be a Problem?

You must remember the courses taught by the college faculty carry college credit.  They establish a grade point average.  Transferring credit must meet the requirements of the institution to which those credits are being transferred.  If a certain grade point average is required by a university, the student not meeting that grade point average will probably not get in.  And low grade point averages impact scholarship opportunities.


Our college once taught four courses at some of the local high schools.  One student got a low grade in a course, and was told that his high school record of high grades would not be considered by his chosen university, since he attended college, and was considered a transfer student.  He needed a C average in the college courses, or would be turned away.


And, the grading is different.  I had student not take a test after getting several test grades of A.  I asked a colleague why this might happen.  He explained that in high school students in the area who missed a test would have an average from only the tests they had taken, and they did not want to ruin that A.  But, in college that missed test might very well be recorded as a zero, and the A is lost. 


Another case was a college professor was teaching at a high school for dual credit and a student got a very low grade on a test.  The high school averaged quality points, so all F grades were equal.  But, the college grades were calculated using the actual points earned, so a zero does much more damage to a grade than a fifty.  The result was the student expected to pass, but did not.


Ask before starting, and know the rules.



What Are Advanced Placement Courses?

Are They Worth the Effort?

A high school teacher may quality to teach at the college level with the right education.  Some high schools offer Advanced Placement courses, which carry college credit, by assigning these courses to the qualified teachers and adding rigor to the courses.  Of course the material is still presented more slowly than a college course, so this might be a good option, especially for those who do not earn college credit but qualify for the high school credit.  There might not be the problems with getting accepted to a university or with a scholarship that could occur with a college course.

What Are Credit Exams?

Can Anyone Take One in Any Subject?

A credit exam is an exam a college or university may give to a person who would like credit in a course due to existing knowledge.  While a credit exam successfully passed does give college credit, a grade of P might be the only grade awarded, so that material the person has mastered will not impact the grade point average.  If one is really proficient in a subject enrolling for the class might yield an A, which does impact the grade point average.  Here the student must balance the desire to move on faster against the earning of a higher grade point average.


The ability to take a credit exam rests with the college or university.  The institutions of higher learning are under no obligation to make this option available, and may make it available only in selected courses.

Is There a Way to Earn College Credit Other than the Early College Option?

Are College Classes Offered to High School Students?

Some students take one, or even a few, college courses before finishing high school.  First, both the high school and the college must agree.  Some institutions of higher learning have a high school diploma or GED as a requirement for admittance, but may waive this for select students.  This usually is allowed for gifted students near the end of their high school work.  These courses may involve travel to the college, so they are often scheduled early in the morning, allowing an uninterrupted day for high school work later. This is a concern for the high school and the student.


Since these are true college courses care must be taken with the grades to avoid the problems mentioned above.


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Updated: 07/07/2017, blackspanielgallery
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blackspanielgallery on 07/08/2017

I know it has been around for some time. We just had the first group finish a four program, and 21 of 31 made it through, so it is not for everybody. Of course, the standards had to be lowered due to lack of initial interest. Now, over a hundred a year are applying. I do not know of any studies, I believe it is a new concept and there is not enough of a sample to draw a good conclusion. I know we are trying to add a second group, this time online students.

DerdriuMarriner on 07/08/2017

blackspanielgallery, Have there been any studies correlating early college program preferences and success of high school students with subsequent college majors and career paths? This arrangement may be attractive to sixteen- and seventeen-year-olds who already know that they strongly want STEM-related research and teaching jobs.

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