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S.D. dual credit program on the rise in high schools

MITCHELL, S.D.—For her first year at Black Hills State University, Lily Hoffman is "ahead of the game."

Hoffman, a recent graduate from Mitchell High School, spent the end of her high school career largely preparing for her college career by taking dual credits, or courses that count for high school and college. And now Hoffman has entered her freshman year at BHSU with already 20 college credits.

"I'm a lot further ahead that a lot of people my age," said Hoffman, who is studying science education.

While in high school, Hoffman took several college-level courses including algebra, speech, sociology, government and two composition courses.

This was possible through the state's reduced tuition dual credit program, which allows high school students in grades 11-12 to take dual credit coursework at South Dakota post secondary institutions.

After starting nearly three years ago, the program is gaining "tremendous interest," according to Tiffany Sanderson, director of career and technical education at the South Dakota Department of Education.

In the program's first year during the 2014-15 school year, a total of 2,345 students enrolled into the program. During the 2015-16 school year, the number rose to 3,503 students, not including the numbers from this summer. Summer 2016 data will be available in the fall.

In the dual credit program, students pay about $48 per credit and the state picks up the rest of the course cost, Sanderson said. Students are responsible for paying for any textbooks and required course materials they need or, if they attend the courses on campus, parking costs.

Students can choose from either on-campus or online classes. According to Sanderson, an estimated 80 percent of high school students take online dual credit courses, while 20 percent attend class in person.

Surrounding states, including Minnesota, already had programs like dual-credit in place for years, she said, making South Dakota "new to the game."

In addition to an increase of students, the number of courses also increased. More than 6,600 courses were taken in the 2015-16 school year compared to the program's first year with 4,313.

In Gov. Dennis Daugaard's State of the State address, he said these credits will be the cheapest credits students will ever take, making college more affordable.

South Dakota students saved more than $2.5 million during the 2014-15 school year by using this program, which averages more than $1,000 per student, Daugaard said in his address.

Sanderson said these numbers show how much high school students save by paying the $48 credit cost by enrolling in dual credit compared to attending a South Dakota institution full-time, paying the full tuition costs.

For Hoffman, this is an added bonus on top of entering college with a 20-credit head start.

"If you have to take (the class) for high school credit anyway, why not do college credit as well," Hoffman said. "It's kind of a lot easier to get things out of the way and a lot less you have to worry about and it's cheaper."

The program not only saves students money, according to Sanderson, it also gives high school students the opportunity to see what college-level courses are like.

"For students who are unsure of whether they'd like to attend a university or technical institute, this is an opportunity so they can explore those options," she said. "They have a great support team at their high school and they can get a feel for college level courses while still surrounded by people they've been working with for years."

Students who are ready academically to move onto advanced coursework that universities and technical institutes offer, they no longer have a barrier, Sanderson said. If they are ready for advanced coursework, they can take the courses while still in high school.

The program also encourages high school students to look into post secondary institutions in South Dakota, instead of leaving the state for post secondary education.

"The program is of benefit for everyone involved; and it's a win for students," Sanderson said. "It's a win for high schools, a win for postsecondary institutions and its a win for the state."

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