Maya Rush, a Columbus High School senior, will be considered a junior college transfer when she starts classes at the University of Mississippi next fall.
Though only 17, Rush has spent her junior and senior years taking college courses and is on track to earn her associate’s degree in liberal arts, something she will have in-hand before she receives her high school diploma. By completing her first two years of college in high school for free, Rush said she not only has she saved money, she has also opened herself up to more scholarship opportunities.
“Going in as a transfer student, it gives me a lot of transfer scholarships,” Rush said. “I don’t have to stay on campus because I’m not a freshman, so it is going to save me a lot of money there. It just gives me more money coming in as a junior than if I was going to be a freshman.”
Columbus Municipal School District offers its high school students dozens of college courses, with all fees and tuition paid by the district at no cost to the student, through partnerships with East Mississippi Community College and Mississippi University for Women.
For the fall semester, CMSD has 118 juniors and seniors enrolled in 31 college courses ranging from college algebra, oral communication and philosophy to sociology.
Career and Technical Center Director Christopher Bray said without the district absorbing those costs, many high school students would not take those college courses and may not even consider college as an option for them after graduation.
“They don’t have to worry about the money; they just have to worry about getting the course work done,” Bray said. “They don’t have to worry about the debt. So, we encourage them to take as many classes as they can, while we are paying for it. Tuition is one thing, but now textbooks for college courses are becoming so much more expensive. Books cost over $100 a piece.”
Though Rush said she has always been on a college track and ahead of the game, she said she’s seen fellow classmates take college courses who otherwise may not.
“It’s not only helping me, but kids that wouldn’t go to college because they couldn’t afford it, now they can,” Rush said. “Columbus High gives us an opportunity through EMCC and MUW. They’re giving people that might not normally go to college that chance.”
CMSD Superintendent Cherie Labat said dual enrollment is commonplace in many high schools, but a district relieving the students of those costs is rare. Last year’s dual enrollment program cost CMSD approximately $100,000.
Labat said the district shouldering those costs are worth it to push students toward higher education, the technical workforce or military enlistment.
“If you’re able to get an associate’s degree by the time you’re 18, we are really doing the community, our parents and individual students a great service by reducing that student debt,” Labat said. “It costs us on the budget side, but we feel that our students and community are well worth that kind of money from our budget.”
Even if they don’t earn an associate’s degree in high school, Bray said more dual enrollment students each year are graduating high school with enough credit hours to forgo their freshman year of college. Typically, those credit hours cost $150 per credit hour at EMCC, with a standard course being three credit hours.
If a student completes enough hours in high school for even one semester of college (12 to 18 hours) and attends a four-year university — such as MUW or Mississippi State — they could save up to $5,000 on tuition alone, not counting what they won’t spend on fees, books and other expenses.
Bray added, other than lessening a financial burden, high school students can bridge the gap between high school graduation and college-readiness.
“It builds confidence,” Bray said. “You have students that maybe think they’re not ready for college. By taking these courses while they’re in high school, it allows them to build that confidence to know they can be successful in college.”
Programs at other area districts
Lowndes County School District offers dual enrollment for high school juniors and seniors, charging those students a significantly lower rate than the average college course.
Deputy Superintendent Robin Ballard said LCSD offers the classes on-site, taught by college qualified LCSD teachers, for $90 for the first course, and $40 for the second course each semester.
She said the importance and cost lessened by the district offers students freshman core classes such as English composition I and II, Western civilization and college algebra. LCSD has 133 high school juniors and seniors taking advantage of dual enrollment this semester.
“What I see is it takes some of the financial burden off the parent,” Ballard said. “Allowing that student to earn that college credit to bridge that transition when they go to higher education.”
Starkville High School Principal Sean McDonnall said nearly 300 juniors and seniors are taking college courses at Starkville-Oktibbeha Consolidated School District.
Each semester, students pay $104 for their first college course, and $39 for each subsequent course thereafter. McDonnall said he hopes to expand dual enrollment and eventually have students spending partial days on a college campus during their high school tenure. The benefit now, McDonnall said, is finishing courses before entering higher education.
“I like it,” McDonnall said. “One, they’re getting it a lot cheaper. They’re saving themselves a lot of money. And if they can get those freshman classes done while they’re juniors and seniors, they’ll be ahead. We’re just getting them ready for college.”
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