Last updated: February 19. 2014 3:24PM - 371 Views

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College costs are so high that they break the bank of most families just getting one child through the system; and college costs can virtually impoverish a family with multiple children seeking degrees. Unless a family is independently wealthy, many of today’s high school students will assume a significant debt load before they finish a Bachelor’s Degree, and that debt will increase even more for students going on through a graduate program.


That’s just in today’s dollars. College costs seem to climb at nearly the same pace as health care costs, with some of the more fashionable universities hiking tuition by double digits every year or so. What’s really frightening is, that trend of escalating college costs shows no sign of slowing down.


The options are few to none. If parents want their children to succeed, and if students want to be marketable in an increasingly competitive world, they either have to pay those college costs up front or sign on the student loan dotted line and leave college with a degree and the equivalent of a minor mortgage to pay off.


But there are ways to lower college costs, and several of those avenues are available to Big Walnut High School students while they’re still in high school. Big Walnut students have access to AP (Advanced Placement) courses, Post-Secondary Enrollment Option (PSEO) courses and Dual Enrollment courses, each of which can earn the student transferable college credit.


The high school currently offers nine AP courses, with 11 AP courses planned for the 2014-15 school year; and the best thing about AP courses is they have a potential for college credit accepted nationwide.


“Advanced Placement courses come with a curriculum, recommended textbooks, and an national Advanced Placement Board certified syllabus,” said Big Walnut High School Principal Jeff Jones. “At the end of the course students take the AP exam. The student’s cost is an AP exam rate, typically around $100, and there is no cost to the school unless the school elects to pay for a teacher’s AP certification workshops.”


Jones said students must earn a score of 3, 4 or 5 on an AP exam in order to be eligible for college credit or course exemption at colleges that accept AP scores.


“Ohio’s state funded colleges and universities must accept scores of 3, 4 or 5,” Jones said. “More than 90 percent of US colleges and universities have a policy of granting incoming students AP credit. What most colleges like about AP are the national standards. When a student transfers in an AP class, colleges and universities know what they’re getting.”


Post-Secondary Enrollment Option (PSEO) courses have been used by Big Walnut students for a number of years and should be familiar to most parents. PSEO students leave the high school campus to attend college classes, typically after exhausting a discipline’s course offerings from the high school curriculum.


“This year we had nine students taking Post-Secondary Enrollment Option classes at nearby college campuses, and that number will grow next school year,” Jones said. “Unlike AP courses that require a grade of 3, 4 or 5 to earn credit, if students receive a passing letter grade while attending a class on a college campus, they earn the credit.”


A newer program offering at Big Walnut and less familiar to most parents is Dual Enrollment. Dual Enrollment means the class is offered at the high school where students simultaneously earn both high school credit and college credit.


During the 2012-13 school year the high school only offered one Dual Enrollment course, AP Environmental Science. This school year the high school offers three Dual Enrollment classes, and five are planned for the 2014-15 school year.


Big Walnut’s Dual Enrollment program is the result of a partnership with Columbus State Community College, Jones said. Courses offered at Big Walnut are in the CSCC Course Catalog, campus textbooks are used, and teachers are interviewed and selected by Columbus State faculty.


“Big Walnut students earn high school and college credit immediately upon the successful completion of the course, and their grades appear on official CSCC transcripts, all without ever leaving the high school campus,” Jones said. “The college credits they earn are recognized by all state institutions in Ohio, and are transferable to most postsecondary institutions in the U.S. Students pay $25 per credit hour, there is no matriculation fee, and the school provides textbooks and course materials for a further savings.”


An increasing number of Big Walnut High School students are taking advantage of the multiple opportunities to both earn college credit, and save money in the years ahead as they enter college to pursue degrees and careers.


Allison Zimmerman, a junior this year who has taken Matt Wallschlaeger’s AP Environmental Science class, said she plans to attend Columbus State where she will focus on science courses on her way to becoming a pharmacist.


Zimmerman said the three ways of earning college credit while still in high school are different – Dual Enrollment, Advanced Placement, and Post-Secondary Option – but they are all beneficial.


“They offer an opportunity to experience a different level of learning, definitely a level of learning I enjoy because it challenges me to think more,” Zimmerman said. “The biggest deal for me is, I’ll be paying all of my college myself, so hopefully this will save me some money in the future.”


Zimmerman, with another year of high school to go after this school year, said she wants the experience of taking classes on a college campus while she’s still in high school.


“Taking AP classes here on our campus, or even college courses on our campus, there’s always someone here to help us,” Zimmerman said. “When you go to a college campus you definitely have to work at a more mature level and take complete responsibility for yourself.”


Senior Carley Osburn, who plans on studying Zoology at Ohio University, took Jim Sturtevant’s World Civilization course for Columbus State credit, and has also completed AP Psychology and AP English. Osburn said earning college credit while still in high school makes sense for any college bound student.


“All three ways of earning college credit are good ideas, especially the Dual Enrollment option because of the amount of money you save,” Osburn said. “For me, education wise, I think the AP courses have been more beneficial.”


Ditto for seniors Ben Meunch and Harley Allaby.


Meunch, who has taken Ann Kannings’ Personal Finance course and Microsoft office program courses, said he values the college credits he has earned without leaving the high school campus; and Allaby, who has taken Jim Sturtevant’s World Civilization class for CSCC credit, said he plans to attend Cedarville University where the credits will transfer, and he said the savings would be significant.


Jones said this year, out of Big Walnut High School’s 1,000 students, over 50 are taking advantage of opportunities to slim down college costs by taking advantage of AP, Dual Enrollment and PSEO options; and he said that number will grow during the years ahead as students and their parents become aware of the savings in both college costs and the time it takes to earn a first degree.


Jones also said the demands placed on high school students taking classes from a college teacher at the high school or at a college or university is more like the demands they’ll face in the outside world. The college classroom presents a different set of challenges that are several notches above the challenges of a high school classroom.


“Our teachers do a great job here, but there’s a different timeline when a student takes Dual Enrollment classes here on our campus or Post-Secondary Option courses at a college or university campus, a different standard that students have to adhere to; the work is more rigorous,” Jones said. “Students are forced to interact with teachers who are outside of their normal comfort zone. The coursework and grades are important, but that interaction is a great skill; and anything we can do to give students an opportunity to prepare for the rigor of college coursework, we want to do that.


“The other obvious benefit is college credit at a great rate that can’t be beat,” Jones added. “To be able to walk out of high school with double-digit credits in college-level courses is invaluable, and these programs can also get kids thinking ahead about what it is they really want to do with their lives.”

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