INA – With the cost of a college education consistently on the rise, an unprecedented number of students in the area are getting their foot in the door early and saving big with dual credit opportunities through Rend Lake College.
“Our dual credit program has proven, term after term, to be a great cost-saving avenue for high school students enrolling in classes at Rend Lake College. And although these opportunities first emerged back in 2001, the savings were never as big as they have been in recent years,” said RLC President Charley D. Holstein. “This year, high school students have saved themselves and their families more than a million dollars in college costs. Those who got on board should be commended for showing great initiative. They enrolled in tougher courses and as a result are on an accelerated path to success.”
A total of 4,783 students from area high schools took 11,523 credit hours this school year totalling savings of $852,702 in Rend Lake College tuition and $187,416 in textbook costs, for a grand total of $1,040,118.
In addition to saving money for tuition and getting a head start on one’s college career, dual credit is attractive because it is credit that can shorten a four-year college stay by a semester or more. The same 11,523 tuition-free credit hours through RLC dual credit would cost $2,684,859 ($233/credit hour) at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, $2,246,985 ($195/credit hour) at SIU-Edwardsville and roughly $4.4 million at the University of Illinois in Champaign, based on $9,242 in annual tuition for a Fall 2008 freshman taking 12 hours, as stated on the U of I website. Dual credit also reduces travel costs to attend the local community college and drastically trims the high cost of room-and-board as a student at the four-year level.
“Not just by dual credit, but by all comparisons, RLC remains the most affordable option for an education beyond high school, going back to school to retool for a new career, or finishing a two-year degree or certificate program of study,” Holstein said. “We take great pride in staying affordable, accessible, student-friendly and proactive in preparing our students.”
Now in its eighth year, dual credit has grown from four schools participating in 2001 to a dozen today. When it was spearheaded at RLC by Math, Science and Education Chair Barb Davenport and Interim Vice President of Academic Instruction Chris Kuberski – then chair of liberal arts – the program generated roughly 400 credit hours at Thompsonville High School, Pinckneyville High, Wayne City High and Benton Consolidated High School. It has since grown nearly 30-fold. RLC’s accrediting body, the Higher Learning Commission, recently identified the college’s dual credit program as a best practice during an accreditation evaluation of the college in November.
Credit hour savings alone is down slightly from approximately $880,000 last year because some schools have scaled back college curriculum for student bodies with stagnant or lowering populations. However, this year is the first year textbooks have been factored into the overall savings and therefore is the first year savings of more than $1 million are being reported by the college, according to Kuberski. She said a lot of parents begin to ask her questions about dual credit around the time their children are coming of age to take part at their high schools.
“A lot of parents tell me how glad they are that our college and their high schools are offering this opportunity to their sons and daughters,” Kuberski said. “I also get a lot of questions about it because the general public either doesn’t know it’s available to their kids or doesn’t understand how it works.”
High school students receive college credit for select courses which are taken during a normal school day and are also used to satisfy high school graduation requirements. These courses are offered by Rend Lake College tuition-free and at a reduced rate for textbook rental. Students are tested for proper placement just like college students. The same evaluation standards, textbooks and syllabi are used as well. If a high school instructor teaches the course, RLC provides a mentor the first three semesters to help assure course material and grading standards are the same as what a college student would receive at RLC. From this mentoring process grew an unexpected symbiotic relationship between the faculty counterparts, and the college and high schools, according to Davenport.
“The high school teachers and college teachers have developed some really fantastic working relationships,” she said. “I don’t think it was like that before and we certainly didn’t predict that to be an outcome.”
“Also, the counselors and superintendents have become more involved,” Kuberksi added. “We don’t dictate to the high schools. They tell us what is best for their populations and we accommodate them without compromising our quality assurance.
“It’s also important students realize the benefit of continuing at RLC after high school in order to transfer a completed degree from RLC to a university, versus just classes they have taken through dual credit,” Kuberski said. “The university has the ability to pick and choose which credits they will accept, however a completed degree will transfer a student in as a junior.”
She also said dual credit is a wonderful way for students to transition from high school to college. Many times, a student is already familiar with their college instructor when he or she takes classes at RLC because they met the instructor through dual credit classes in high school.
“Typically, a student cuts about a year off of college beyond high school by taking dual credit classes,” Kuberski explained. “And although they are younger when they technically begin college, they are more prepared and experience a smoother transition from high school to college.”
Students at Mt. Vernon Township High School accounted for the most dual credit generated by one school this year with 1,913 students enrolled in 3,508 credit hours for tuition savings of $259,592.
Benton Consolidated High School had 371 students enrolled in 1,278 credit hours for tuition savings of $94,572. Christopher High School had 677 students enrolled in 1,492 credit hours for tuition savings of $110,408. Hamilton County Senior High School had 136 students enrolled in 409 credit hours for tuition savings of $30,266. Pinckneyville High School had 473 students enrolled in 1,562 credit hours for tuition savings of $115,588. Sesser-Valier High School had 286 students enrolled in 830 credit hours for tuition savings of $61,420. Thompsonville High School had 50 students enrolled in 147 credit hours for tuition savings of $10,878. Waltonville High School had 98 students enrolled in 262 credit hours for tuition savings of $19,388. Wayne City High School had 152 students enrolled in 421 credit hours for tuition savings of $31,154. Webber Township High School had 179 students enrolled in 629 credit hours for tuition savings of $46,546. Woodlawn High School had 332 students enrolled in 617 credit hours for tuition savings of $45,658. Zeigler-Royalton High School had 116 students enrolled in 368 credit hours for tuition savings of $27,232.
The top dual credit classes taken by students were geometry, music appreciation, first aid and CPR training, beginning document formatting, American government, human relations, weight conditioning I, introduction to sociology, elementary Spanish I, volunteerism, and introduction to welding processes.
“Dual credit is a win-win,” Holstein said. “The college gets a student taking credit hours and the student gets a streamlined transition on the fast track from high school to a Rend Lake College degree while saving thousands of dollars.”