Some Community Colleges Offer Free College Credit for High Schoolers

26 August 2023

Kara Baker recently graduated from high school in the state of Indiana. She earned more than a high school diploma, however. She also completed a two-year associate degree at the local community college, Ivy Tech.

This summer, Baker is taking more classes at Ivy Tech before beginning her studies at Purdue University, also in Indiana. She hopes to become a veterinarian.

FILE --Terre Haute Campus, Ivy Tech Community College (Courtesy photo, Ivy Tech Community College)
FILE --Terre Haute Campus, Ivy Tech Community College (Courtesy photo, Ivy Tech Community College)

In many areas in the U.S., students can earn college credit at community colleges while they are still in high school. Many of these programs are called dual-credit programs.

And in recent years, some community colleges have begun offering courses to high schoolers at no cost during the summer.

Programs like these aim to get more students to enter community college and to help them finish programs they have already started.

The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center provides reporting on issues in education. It said enrollment at community colleges has decreased by nearly 40 percent over the past 10 years.

Free summer programs for high school students

Baker said she was looking for programs to help her recover time lost in her education during the COVID-19 pandemic. Ivy Tech was the answer.

"I felt very behind due to Covid," Baker says. "[High] school slowed down, but my online college classes continued on. I was so grateful."

With 43 campuses across the state of Indiana, Ivy Tech has the most students of any community college system in the U.S.

During the 2019-2020 school year, there were over 63,000 Indiana high school students in Ivy Tech's dual-credit program. But the COVID-19 pandemic made it more difficult for some students to finish the program.

As a result, Ivy Tech began its "Crossing the Finish Line" program in summer of 2021. The program lets high school students who are close to finishing their studies at Ivy Tech take their remaining classes at no cost during the summer.

The program saw completion of 714 programs of study in summer of 2021, and an additional 900 during the 2021-22 school year. Students paid for any courses they had to finish during the fall or spring.

The results of the Crossing the Finish Line program were good. So, in 2022, Ivy Tech began offering free college credit courses in summer to high school students, even if they were not in a dual-credit program. Any student from grades nine through 12 who meets the requirements may take the summer classes.

In the U.S., students from grades 9-12 are usually between 14 and 18 years old.

Including both the Crossing the Finish Line and other free summer courses, this year nearly 8,000 Indiana high schoolers are taking free college classes at Ivy Tech.

Saving money and time

Officials at Ivy Tech said the free classes have saved students and their families about 6.5 million dollars this summer. A three-credit class at Ivy Tech usually costs students about $510.

The Indiana Department of Education pays for the Crossing the Finish Line program, while Ivy Tech is spending about 3.6 million dollars to pay for other summer classes.

Baker told VOA Learning English that the college classes might save her up to two years of college credit as she works towards becoming a veterinarian. For her, the college credit she received means less money spent on student loans.

"As I look at future student loans, I am grateful for the opportunities Ivy Tech presented," she said.

Seeing students finish their programs and continue in higher education makes the cost worth it, said Monica Marianna Hingst. She is Interim Vice President for K-14 and Strategic Initiatives at Ivy Tech.

"Getting students to come here and take courses for free is great. It's even better when it's aligned toward a completion, because once you earn that certification, or once you earn that degree, you are now setting yourself up for success."

Northern Virginia Community College

Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA) is one of the largest community college systems in the U.S. Its JumpStart2NOVA program permits students who finish high school in the spring to take college courses for free during the summer. NOVA started the program in 2020 to help students continue their education during the Covid-19 pandemic.

In addition to classes, students receive free online help with their studies. They can also attend free weekly information sessions on how to succeed in their education.

There are about 700 students in the program this year. JumpStart2NOVA helps both the students, the community college, and the local community, said Dr. Eun-Woo Chang, Chief Academic Officer at NOVA.

He noted that having more students finish their programs of study helps provide skilled workers for the local economy.

"It's a good investment to make them to stay at NOVA and also Northern Virginia, so this helps the regional economy here."

He added, "Community colleges are in the community that needs a lot more resources...they are underserved. We are here for them."

Chemeketa Community College is in the state of Oregon. Its BOLT program offers 12 different five-week college credit courses for free for up to 450 students in the summer. The students must be entering or finishing their last year of high school. Like the program at Ivy Tech in Indiana, the BOLT program also pays for the cost of textbooks.

Chemeketa designed the BOLT program because Covid-19 affected the schools in the area. The program supports students who have fewer chances to take college courses for credit.

Ready for college

Back in Indiana, Kara Baker adds that Ivy Tech has helped her with more than time and money.

"Ivy Tech took my learning and thinking to that next level. I feel I am better prepared to manage the college experience," she said.

Baker added, "I felt I was driven more as a student, as I saw a more diverse future outlook compared to my fellow high school students."

I'm Andrew Smith. And I'm Caty Weaver.

Andrew Smith wrote this story for VOA Learning English.


Words in This Story

diploma –n. a document that shows a person has completed a course of study from a school

associate degree –n. a degree after high school of two or three years that does not provide a bachelor's degree

veterinarian –n. a doctor for animals

course –n. a class; a series of classes that lead to a degree

enrollment –n. the process of being accepted for study and entering a school, especially a college or university

due to –conj. because of; thanks to something

campus –n. the grounds or place of an organization especially a college or university