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Dual enrollment gives students leg up

High school graduates making their first trip to college often find a lot to adjust to. The way the classes are taught and the amount of schoolwork that is given are some of the main issues that incoming freshmen have to deal with. If only high school students could get a taste of campus life while they were in high school, then maybe the adjustment wouldn’t be so great.

That wish is a reality for Demopolis High School students through a program called dual enrollment. Now in its third year, dual enrollment enables DHS juniors and seniors to take college-level courses at Alabama Southern Community College’s Demopolis campus as electives that count toward that student’s high school grade-point average and can transfer to several Alabama and out-of-state college and university campuses.

“Dual enrollment is a program that many high schools have,” said Dr. Isaac Espy Jr., the principal at Demopolis High School. “It is a partnership between a high school and a post-secondary institution, like a four-year college or a community college. Our partnership is with Alabama Southern Community College. We allow our students to enroll in college and take courses that count towards a college degree, and at the same time, we count them as elective courses that are required for graduation.”

Espy said that the program is restrictive in that only juniors and seniors who are making satisfactory progress in their schoolwork can take part in the program.

“Everybody wins,” Espy said. “It’s much more economical and affordable for families for their students to build up credit hours towards a college diploma while the child is at home. Alabama Southern Community College is one of the few post-secondary schools in the country that did not raise its tuition this fall. So, for $90 a semester hour — and, basically, no increase in living expenses — a child can easily pick up six credit hours a semester.

“That jus makes sense in this day and age. We have some students who are very ambitious with what they want to do. Others are first-generation college students, the first people in their family ever to set foot on a college campus. They get a taste of college life without leaving home.

“It allows us to offer elective courses without having to pay for a teacher,” he said. “That’s a wonderful thing for our school system. That’s money in the bank for our board of education, for our programs. Our students are served in a wonderful way, but we don’t have to hire teacher units.”

Espy added that it helps Alabama Southern’s Demopolis campus in that the tuition going to that school stays in Demopolis. Scholarship money for this program is also available, often provided by local merchants and businesses.

“We’ve had a number of sponsors for scholarships,” he said. “The Demopolis City Schools Foundation has sponsored scholarships. The Rotary Club and Robertson Bank have been very cooperative in providing local scholarships for dual enrollment. I got a call around the first of August from Chuck Smith at RockTenn, and they have provided $5,000 in tuition funds for our students. These are all godsends not only for our students, but for their parents, for Alabama southern, for this program in general. When we see how many students are going to be enrolled in the fall, we will take the scholarship monies and divide it among that number of students. It’s not going to pay for all, but it will pay for the better part of a semester of one course. That’s a lot. That’s the difference between a number of students participating and not participating.”

The popularity of the program has skyrocketed among DHS students.

“Our enrollment numbers in this program have risen to the point where there is more participation between Demopolis High School and Alabama Southern’s Demopolis campus than all of the other Alabama Southern Community College campuses combined. We are just thrilled that our students are taking advantage of this.”

ASCC has campuses in Monroeville, Thomasville, Gilbertown and Jackson as well as Demopolis.

“The enrollment in the program is up 25 percent,” said Demopolis City Schools Superintendent Dr. Wayne Vickers.

“Some are taking college courses in the evening, some are taking it in the middle of the school day,” Espy said. “It offers flexibility in the school day. On the days they don’t take the ASCC courses, they can go home, go to work, go to the library and study — they get a little taste of the flexibility of the college study schedule.”

Demopolis High School students are taking advantage of the dual enrollment program to get an upper hand on their college life, taking college-level courses that count towards their high-school grades and their college transcript before they even graduate from high school. The benefits that they can receive will help give them a head start on many other high-school graduates from other schools as they begin college life.