– Mark Leggiero (pictured above)
Every weekday morning, Janet Mendoza rides the school bus from East Hall High School to the Jones Early College campus, where she takes a college English course three days a week. Then, she takes the bus back to East Hall High to finish out her school day.
During fall, Fridays especially are hectic for Mendoza. In addition to her classes both at Jones and East Hall, Mendoza is the clarinet section leader in the East Hall High School Viking Band. After finishing her school day, Friday afternoons are a rush of homework, time with friends and family, and getting ready for the football game.
Before even finishing high school, Mendoza has become the first in her family to attend college thanks to Georgia’s dual-enrollment program and UNG.
“One thing that interested me about dual enrollment was the opportunity to get both high school and college credit, with no cost at all,” Mendoza said. “I would tell others considering dual enrollment to do it. You’ll thank yourself later when you don’t have to pay for classes. Plus, you meet so many new people in the process.”
When she graduates from East Hall in May 2020, Mendoza plans to pursue a career as a physical therapist and hopes to do so at UNG. She’ll have a head-start on completing that degree thanks to the credits earned through UNG’s dual enrollment program.
The state’s dual enrollment program provides funding for students at eligible high schools, who meet the academic requirements, to take approved college-level coursework for credit toward both high school and college graduation requirements. During the 2010-11 school year, 1.4 million high school students took courses at colleges and universities nationwide, according to the U.S. Department of Education. That’s 10 percent of the entire high school population, and the numbers are growing.
While it’s not the case in every state, in Georgia dual enrollment is virtually free after state lawmakers three years ago eliminated costs for tuition, fees and textbooks. That and other legislative changes to boost the program have helped fuel a 181 percent increase in the number of dual-enrollment participants since the 2011-12 school year, even though overall high school enrollment only increased 8 percent in that timeframe, according to the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement (GOSA).
Charles Bell, coordinator for dual enrollment at UNG, said the legislative changes, coupled with the support of Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal, have boosted the program at UNG as well.
“One of the things Gov. Deal wanted to do was provide every student with the opportunity to take college classes,” Bell said. “The result is a more educated Georgia, and dual enrollment contributes to that as a key component of the governor’s Complete College Georgia initiative, which seeks to increase the number of Georgians with college credentials.”
— Janet Mendoza
In Georgia, improvements to dual enrollment enacted by the state legislature in 2015 have helped fuel a 181 percent increase in the number of participants since the 2011-12 school year, even though high school enrollment only increased 8 percent in that timeframe. In 2015-16, there were 23,693 public school students taking part in dual enrollment in Georgia, according to the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement.
The number of dual-enrolled students at UNG has increased fivefold in just five years. In fall 2013, UNG had 253 dual-enrollment students taking 630 courses. In fall 2018, there are 1,249 dual-enrolled students taking 3,168 courses at UNG’s five campuses, on-site at two area high schools, or online.
Steady growth in the program at UNG has allowed for the creation of unique aspects that set it apart from other dual-enrollment programs in the state and the nation, and additionally help fuel its popularity.
Jones Early College in Hall County is a collaboration among three area postsecondary institutions, including UNG, for students from six high schools to take courses at one location. The program is the only one of its kind in the nation. Students are bussed from their home campus to the Jones Early College campus in Gainesville, Georgia, where they attend five days a week, even when their college classes aren’t scheduled to meet, and then back at the end of the school day. The on-site students have the rights and privileges of a college student, with the added benefits of provided transportation, tutoring, field trips, and guest speakers, Bell said. The model is advantageous for students who may not have transportation and for those who aren’t ready to trade the familiar high school halls for a college campus.
“Dual enrollment is meant to transition students between high school and college, and early college does this, but gives even more support. So those students who may not have been quite ready to leave campus, it builds their self-esteem and their responsibility level so that when they do go to college, they are fully aware of what you need to be a college student,” Bell said.
UNG has created a second, on-site, dual-enrollment opportunity in Jackson County, where students from East Jackson Comprehensive, Jackson County Comprehensive and Commerce high schools all take courses from UNG faculty on the East Jackson campus.
The ability to participate in college life isn’t just reserved for the on-site dual enrollees; all dual-enrolled students at UNG are given access to student support services, activities and events. Other than a few age-related restrictions, such as joining fraternities or sororities, living in residence halls or participating in NCAA sports, dual-enrolled students at UNG are encouraged to participate fully in the college experience.
Popularity of dual enrollment growing at UNG
Changes by the Georgia legislature made dual enrollment virtually free and have contributed to the steady growth in the program at UNG. Starting with just 253 dual-enrolled students taking 630 courses in fall 2013, that number has grown exponentially. Steady growth in the program has helped UNG create unique aspects of the dual-enrollment program that set it apart from other programs in the state and the nation.
Albert Bis of Gainesville, who graduated from Johnson High School in Hall County, said those considering dual-enrollment at UNG should rest assured that a great support network is available to help them.
“My advice to high school students who are considering dual enrollment is not to be afraid of it. The support structure in college, at least at UNG, is fantastic, so you shouldn’t fear the difficulty of any courses,” said Bis, who is pursuing a Bachelor of Business Administration degree at UNG and plans to earn a master’s and possibly a doctorate.
Bell said that’s the idea.
“You’re developing the whole character of the student, and you both share responsibility in developing that. You’re trying to get them to realize their life goals; not just take random classes, but take classes that will benefit them, that will help them, that will stretch them,” Bell said. “Sometimes when you’re 15 or 16, you really don’t know who you are and being in college really forces them to think about ‘Where do I want to go in life?’”
Like Bis, who wants to land a spot in upper management at a major corporation or start his own business, some former and current dual-enrollment students at UNG have lofty goals for where they want to go in life.
Samhitha Dasari of Cumming, Georgia, who in May 2018 earned an associate degree in psychology at UNG three weeks before graduating from South Forsyth High School, is enrolled at the University of Toledo in the Bacc2MD program—an eight-year combined bachelor’s and Doctor of Medicine program.
“I liked that I was able to have an associate degree before entering college and I also liked that I had the experience of attending college, compared to my peers,” Dasari said. “I think dual enrollment is a wonderful opportunity and I believe more people should look into this opportunity.”
— Albert Bis
— Samantha Spinaci