Local students double up on school credits before college

Posted: July 25, 2013

The Winchester Star

Twin brothers Michael Bloom (left) and Thomas Bloom have accelerated their education. (Photo by Scott Mason/The Winchester Star)
Thomas Bloom (pictured) will have most of his general education requirements satisfied when he attends Shenandoah University in the fall, and Michael will have one semester under his belt when he steps on campus at the University of Virginia. (Photo by Scott Mason/The Winchester Star)
Michael Bloom (pictured) and twin brother Thomas are among the hundreds of students in the area who are bringing higher education to high school through dual enrollment courses.

WINCHESTER — Thomas and Michael Bloom are on the educational fast track.

This spring, the Frederick County home-schooled twins each received an associate’s degree (60 or more credits) at Lord Fairfax Community College at the same time they finished high school.

They were able to do so by taking dual enrollment courses both at home and at the college. These courses counted for both high school and college credit.

Now, Thomas will have most of his general education requirements satisfied when he attends Shenandoah University in the fall, and Michael will have one semester under his belt when he steps on campus at the University of Virginia.

“It leaves more time for working if I need to and participating in theater,” Thomas said.

Michael said he feels more prepared because he knows what to expect with college-level classwork.

“Once we both got used to the type of work we were doing and the environment, we really got into the swing of things,” he said.

Michael and Thomas are among the hundreds of students in the area who are bringing higher education to high school through dual enrollment courses.

With the help of these courses, it’s not unusual for students to graduate high school with 30 to 60 college credits.

“Four-year schools expect a higher level of rigor,” said Brenda Byard, dean of business and technologies and director of high school outreach at LFCC. “If [students] are not taking AP or dual enrollment, they are not competitive.”

Byard spends her time creating relationships with area schools and students to advise them on dual enrollment and its possibilities.

Students who dual enroll can enter college at an advanced level. These students can then take two majors, pursue other interests like taking a semester abroad, and have more leeway in the case of academic or personal issues.

The majority of local divisions’ dual enrolled courses are offered through Lord Fairfax, with some offered through James Madison and Shenandoah universities. The courses are taught by high school teachers who have a master’s degree in their discipline, or a master’s degree in an unrelated field and 18 graduate hours in their discipline.

Students can earn college credit (typically three credits) if they earn a C or better in dual enrolled courses, while they can also get a bump in their high school GPA.

The credits are accepted at all public schools in Virginia and by most private schools. However, some schools have limits on how many credits they will accept, and some out-of-state schools won’t accept the credits at all.

By taking these courses, students can earn college credit at a discount rate — $97.50 per three-credit dual enrolled course at LFCC compared to the $390 that is paid by in-state college students who take the same course on campus.

It’s an option more and more students are taking advantage of.

From spring 2011 to spring 2013, the number of students in Winchester and Frederick, Clarke, Warren, Shenandoah, Rappahannock, Page and Fauquier counties taking dual enrollment courses increased 16 percent, from 1,542 to 1,790.

This past spring, 443 students in Frederick County’s three high schools took 2,642 dual enrollment credits; 170 students at Handley High School in Winchester took 1,245 credits; and 104 students at Clarke County High School earned 508 credits, according to data from LFCC.

“This allows students to jump into higher-level courses and not have to take freshman-level ones,” said Vaughan Kusko, lead guidance counselor at Handley, which offers 31 dual-enrolled courses.

Jim Angelo, director of middle and secondary instructional services in Frederick County, said area schools are fortunate to have LFCC so close with such a prominent dual enrollment program.

“Our kids have way more opportunities to dual enroll than some schools in northern Virginia,” Angelo said.

To take dual-enrolled courses, students must apply for admission at Lord Fairfax and complete placement testing or have appropriate SAT or ACT scores.

Students can take dual enrollment courses and then opt out of receiving college credit for them if they don’t believe they will receive a good grade for fear it will go on their college transcript. They must do so before seeing their marks.

They also have the option of taking Advanced Placement courses, which may transfer credits to out-of-state schools more so than dual enrollment.

— Contact Rebecca Layne at rlayne@winchesterstar.com