While it may not be the norm anymore for students to graduate college in just four years, Rend Lake College is helping them reach that goal by offering college credit to students while they are still in high school. The dual credit program also spares parents and students great expense on higher education.
The dual-credit system, at least as old as 1992 in the United States and made legal in Illinois in 1996, allows high school students to receive college credit for courses they take during a normal day in addition to satisfying high school graduation requirements.
These courses are offered by RLC tuition-free and at a reduced rate for textbook rental. The savings increase drastically when a student who has taken several dual-credit courses can shorten his or her stay at a university, reducing the cost of room and board.
Dual-credit courses are taught by college or high school instructors. If a high school instructor teaches the course, RLC will provide a mentor for the first three semesters in which that instructor teaches the course.
The mentor’s purpose is to make certain the course material and grading standards are the same as what a college student would receive at RLC.
"The delivery methods and quality are the same," said Rend Lake College President Mark Kern.
"It’s a win-win-win situation. It allows the high schools to offer a service that does not cost them anything. But the big winners are the students and the parents," Kern said.
For example, one Benton high school student has earned 48 hours of college credit through enrollment in Rend Lake College courses while still in high school. At RLC’s tuition rate of $52 per credit hour, the student saved approximately $2,500. The savings would increase dramatically if these credits were taken at a four-year school with higher tuition and room and board charges.
Considering an average tuition rate of $150 per credit hour for a four-year university in this region, 48 hours of college credit amounts to $7,200 saved on tuition alone.
The courses are transcripted at RLC, Kern said. However, if a high school student enrolled in dual-credit courses does not plan to attend Rend Lake College, the credit will transfer to any other Illinois college or university, most private schools in the state and likely will transfer to most other institutions.
RLC also offers courses to high school students in the evenings as well as during the summer. "In addition to dual credit, Rend Lake College takes the position that any high school student, with the school superintendent’s permission, can take a summer or evening course tuition-free," Kern said.
At Benton Consolidated High School, 40 current students are taking advantage of RLC’s dual-credit offerings. Fifteen of those students have earned at least 13 hours. One has received 48 hours, another earned 42, one garnered 35 and two more have taken 24. The savings for just this group of five students is approximately $9,000 in tuition alone.
At Pinckneyville Community High School, 40 current students have earned credit from RLC, with 12 of those having earned 13 hours or more. Four students have between 20 and 30 hours earned, one has 35 and another student has 42.
Nineteen current students at Hamilton County Senior High School in McLeansboro have earned a total of 82 hours.
Approximately 172 students at Mt. Vernon Township High School participate in RLC courses; in Sesser, 44. In all, 12 high schools in the Rend Lake College district have students participating in dual-credit courses.
Collectively, 428 students in these 12 schools have earned a total of approximately 3,000 hours, an average of 7 hours per student.