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H.S. Students Seek College Credits

June 7, 2002

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Bobbi Sue Wilson will tell you she’s not the smartest 17-year-old in Washington state, just one of the diligent ones. On Saturday, she gets her diploma from Ridgefield High School and six days later receives an associate’s degree from Clark College in nearby Vancouver, Wash.

Come fall, she plans to enroll as a junior at Northwest Nazarene University in Idaho.

``I’m hardworking, and I get stuff done on time,″ Wilson said. Not even on the honor roll, she is 54th in a high school class of 114. ``Anyone can do it,″ she said.

Wilson belongs to a growing number of teen-agers who are taking college courses and racking up degree credits while still in high school.

Students can use such courses to save money and earn their bachelor’s degree more quickly. Some also use the courses to better prepare for college, or to bank college credits toward double, even triple majors. At the very least, high school students who take college courses can enhance their college applications and resumes.

Organized programs offering college-credit courses to high school students date back decades in some cases, and are separate from the College Board Advanced Placement Exams that yield college credits. Most states, according to the Education Commission of the States, offer such programs. And nearly half the states pick up part or all tuition.

But the practice really began taking off in the mid-1990s. And it is no longer for the brainy, overachieving few.

``It’s the strongest movement, the best movement we’ve had in 50 years in education,″ said Hans Andrews, president of two-year Olney Central College in Illinois. It is ``solving the problem of what to do in the senior year,″ he said. ``Because it’s wasted.″

An estimated 560,000 of the nation’s high school juniors and seniors _ about 8 percent _ are taking college courses, said Richard Clark of the independent, nonprofit Institute for Educational Inquiry in Seattle.

Regina Kelleher, a former associate dean at Hesser College in New Hampshire who has written a book on the phenomenon, identified more than 350 public and private colleges and entire state university systems that usually accept such credits.

Many students who take part in these programs spend part or all their time on a college campus. That is what Bobbi Sue Wilson did, through Washington’s 12-year-old Running Start program.

But many students are also getting college instruction from high school teachers who double as adjunct professors for a university or community college.

Nikki Davis, head of the English department at Westfield High School in suburban Indianapolis, teaches a college-level composition course credited by Ball State University in Muncie, Ind. From 12 students in 1998, the class has swelled to 80 students in three sections this year. The tuition is $350.

The students in her class range from the valedictorian to the absolutely average.

``A lot of times in high school it’s so hard for them to connect what they’re doing in the classroom that will affect them later on. But in this class, they see how they’re learning,″ Davis said. ``It does get kind of collegiate after a while. I see kids just discussing their writing styles. I don’t even see that in my English honors classes.″

Teens are also earning credits on their own.

After high school, Georgia-raised Pedram Alizadeh entered Emory University last fall as an 18-year-old sophomore thanks to credits accumulated over two summers at Stanford University and at Harvard.

Early exposure to college work paid another dividend.

``I didn’t fall into the trap, you let the social life at college dominate your experience,″ said Alizadeh.


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