The 60 x 30 State Strategic Plan positions Texas among the highest achieving states in the country with its lofty goal that 60 percent of young adults (25-34) will hold some type of post-secondary credential by 2030. How are we going to get there? The answer is dual credit — the opportunity for high school students to enroll in college courses concurrently, and upon successful completion of the course(s), obtain high school and college credit.
With the passage of a bill during the last legislative session to expand dual credit to the freshman and sophomore years, Texas touts 20,000 new dual credit students in the state. With a 650 percent increase in dual credit participation between 2000 and 2015, several new research studies have emerged to determine how dual credit students progress through their higher education pathways.
A dual credit task force report released by The University of Texas System and the Texas Association of Community Colleges in July 2018, “Where College Meets High School,” indicates that dual credit is an important contributor to successfully reaching the goals of the 60x30TX state strategic plan. Followed by a second study conducted by the University of Texas System, “Dual Credit and Success in College,” which indicated students’ exposure to even one dual credit courses has a positive impact on student success outcomes.
Finally, a 2018 AIR Report, “Dual-Credit Education Programs in Texas,” states high school graduates who participated in dual-credit education programs outperformed students who did not. The research shows a great deal of promise when it comes to improving student success in college, as well as increases in university application, admission, enrollment and completion.
Community colleges serve the largest sector of Texas higher education. In 2015, over 700,000 (47 percent) students were enrolled at community colleges in Texas, while 93 percent were dual credit enrollments.
Hill College touts being the first community college in Texas to offer dual credit courses beginning in the early ’80s with a more recent focus on expanding dual credit opportunities in technical fields such as fire science, automotive technology, HVAC, welding, industrial maintenance, and cosmetology, among others.
Celebrating a recent 5 percent increase in enrollment (4,337 students), and with over 1,800 dual credit students, Hill College is proud to work collaboratively with 28 independent school districts within its service area. It is not uncommon for our dual credit students to leave Hill College with 30-0plus hours; however, a new initiative this last year to offer an associate degree to dual credit students consecutively with graduating from high school has opened an opportunity for even greater cost savings to families, as well as helped students stay closer to home until they are ready for the four-year university experience or world of work.
This fall, Hill College has taken a proactive role to not only expand intentional services to dual credit students, but also, embraced the growth of its dual credit students. Hill College dual credit teams of staff from advising, financial aid, recruitment and admissions are assigned to ISD partners within the service area to assist with application processes, selecting a major, and degree plan assistance. Even more exciting is rewarding students whom complete 15, 30 and 45 credit hours with a “moving forward” T-shirts and other perks to say “good job” for working hard. The research tells us that if a student can successfully complete at least 15 college credit hours, a student is much more likely to finish what he/she starts. Being intentional about rewarding students for reaching milestones in their educational journey is one of my greatest pleasures as a President, however, challenges do exist.
One of the greatest challenges is funding. There is great variance in how dual credit courses are funded across Texas. This variance and inconsistency in funding models also contribute to issues of equity and quality with a particular impact on career and technical education programs with their high costs for equipment.
With concern of access and equity, and because dual credit students cannot qualify for federal aid, Hill College has taken a proactive stance to reach out to the Johnson County community with a new initiative called, “Jumpstart.” Sitting down at the table with area superintendents, mayors and residents led to the establishment of a Johnson County Dual Credit Jumpstart scholarship fund with a $10,000 founding contribution from Pinnacle Bank, followed by Citizens National Bank, as well as other community partners. With an initial goal of raising $50,000 for scholarships before the end of this year, awards will begin to be distributed for the 2019 spring semester. Scholarships will be awarded on a first come, first serve basis and will be for dual credit students in Johnson County enrolled in Hill College academic or career and technical education dual credit courses.
The Burleson Opportunity Fund is another example of a community stepping forward to provide scholarships to their high school students in an effort to get ahead with their college degree. The Burleson Opportunity Fund, or more commonly known as the BOF, was started 10 years ago with the ultimate goal of providing high school graduates from Burleson ISD the opportunity to attain post-secondary education. Currently, the students of the Burleson Opportunity Fund have been eligible for up to two years of tuition and fees to attend Hill College at the Burleson Center. Funding is provided by many corporate partners, organizations, and individuals who are passionate about helping students succeed. New this past year, as an arm of the BOF, is the Burleson Works Program with the goal of providing an avenue for companies in the Burleson community to connect with the ISD, Hill College and other partners to provide training and certifications for students to gain employment in the area.
How do we continue to provide access and equity for all students while closing the skills gap in Texas? With intentional collaborative projects, partnerships and sharing of resources with school districts, parents, teachers, businesses, industry and the community. Dual credit at Hill College provides a golden opportunity for students to experience college, get a head start on college, and prepare for university or career workforce education. The return on investment is that we are placing future leaders and workers in our communities.
One of my greatest memories occurred a few months back while having dinner at a local restaurant. A young man busing tables walked up and asked if I was the president of Hill College. Upon answering yes, he introduced himself, shook my hand and thanked me for giving him a “15 Forward” T-shirt. He went on to say that he never thought he could ever go to college because no one in his family ever went to college, much less completed 15 hours. He assured me that he was going to wear his “15 Forward” T-shirt proudly. Needless to say, I went home that evening with so much more than a good meal.
From the Hill College family — a great big thank you to our partners and community for supporting education and helping create opportunities for students.
Dr. Pam Boehm is president of Hill College