In an age of perfect SAT scores, 4.5 GPAs, and the most competitive college admissions in history, some students are gaining an edge by obtaining their associate’s degree before their high school diploma!

Many “underage” students opting to take college courses are enrolled in “early college high schools,” Other public schools nationwide provide students with dual enrollment programs that help them earn their associate’s degree during high school.

Doubling the Degrees

As a brainchild of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the “early college high school” trend is growing. Since 2002, more than 200 schools across 24 states and in Washington DC have been designated as early college campuses, according to the Early College High School Initiative. Specifically designed to cultivate the academic achievement of all students across socioeconomic, cultural, and language barriers, these high schools have helped many students obtain their associate’s degree or earn credit towards their bachelor’s degree – all while enrolled in high school. Better yet, students from these high schools make all this college credit tuition-free.

While most assume that only the “brightest and best” high school students can earn college degrees while in high school, this is not the case. In fact, according to The Washington Post, “Programs that allow students to earn college credit while in high school sound as if they have been designed for the smartest, most ambitious teens. But that’s not necessarily so.”

Michael Lerner, New York’s Bard High School Early College Associate Dean of Studies, expounds: “We have plenty of students who might not have made it through high school, but they rise to the challenge that we present.”

Indeed, reports have found that teenagers, “many of whom don’t believe they are college material,” have successfully earned their high school diplomas, along with one to two years of college credit simultaneously.

Dual Benefits for Students

While the opportunity to earn an associate’s degree alongside a high school diploma certainly possesses many benefits, many leaders assert that some of the most appealing perks may be seen in lower-income community areas.

As Roscoe Collegiate High School director Jacob Tiemann asserts, “The program is good for all students, especially those first-generation college students, low-income students, minorities and English language learners.”

She is enrolling in college courses while in high school to relieve some of the financial burdens of higher education. For example, Roscoe Collegiate High School in Snyder, Texas, paid for all of the college courses and textbooks for Shelby Ragsdale, a senior, to attend Western Texas College. This ultimately saved her family an estimated $20,000 in college costs!

Texas alone has specifically opened 29 other early college high schools nationwide. In tracking the progress of students enrolled in these programs, reports reveal that 11 percent of early college high school graduates can earn both their associate’s degree and their high school diploma simultaneously (based on data from 2002 to the present). Similarly, 40 percent of early college high school students can graduate with more than one year of college credit under their belts.

With classes offered through cooperating colleges, such as Texas State Technical College and Western Texas College, Roscoe’s school leaders are confident that these diverse opportunities are excellently preparing their students for college life. As Ragsdale personally admits, “‘I am glad that I did this because it prepared me for college.”‘

Enrolling in Early College High Schools

Early college high schools may be an excellent academic choice if you want to earn college credit during high school. Since these schools are publicly funded, all qualified students can apply. In addition, most administrators assert that they do not choose applications based on the top test scores. In fact, many of these early college high schools purposefully diversify their student population in terms of socioeconomic backgrounds and academic performance.

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