More Arizona students are seeking out dual enrollment classes to get a jump on college credit and save on tuition.
Through dual enrollment, or concurrent enrollment as it is called in other parts of the country, high school students earn credits toward a diploma, as well as college credit through a local college or university.
Most East Valley school districts partner with local community colleges, including Tempe's Rio Salado College.
Rio Salado recently received reaccreditation from the national group that watches over dual enrollment schools. It is the only college in the state with that distinction. Representatives from the National Alliance of Concurrent Enrollment Partnerships, which awards the accreditation, were in town recently to mark the news.
The group was created in the late 1990s in response to a movement toward concurrent or dual enrollment, said Rick Kemp, dean of instruction and partnerships at Rio Salado.
In order to teach a dual credit class, high school instructors must have community college credentials, Kemp said. Rio Salado offers training and planning to teachers in their partner schools.
Rio Salado was first accredited in 2004. Schools must be re-examined every seven years to determine that they remain at the high standard, said E.J. Anderson, director of dual enrollment at Rio Salado College.
This year, more than 6,000 high school students from Tempe Union High School District, as well as Dysart, Paradise Valley and Deer Valley unified school districts, are taking dual classes through Rio Salado, Anderson said.
Rio Salado offers 161 different courses to students at 41 partner schools, mostly public district schools. A handful of charter schools, as well as Xavier College Preparatory and Brophy College Preparatory, also work with Rio Salado.
"It's on the national agenda," Kemp said. "Several states now have dual enrollment type requirements in statutes."
Students, and their parents, see the benefit, Anderson said.
"We see a lot of growth in dual enrollment. Parents are looking for opportunities for students to increase the rigor in high school because that's one of the best preparations for college," she said.
It also provides some cost savings. Students pay tuition for credits earned through Rio Salado at the community college rate, currently $76 a credit.
"Dual enrollment is seen as one of the best strategies for increasing college retention. They're better prepared because they have those credits. It gives them momentum to complete college," she said.
"Many of the dual enrollment courses could be termed honors or Advanced Placement-type courses," Kemp said. But a larger number of students are also enrolling because of the career and technical education course offerings, he said.
One of the largest participants in the program is Tempe Union High School District's Desert Vista High School, which offers between 60 and 70 classes for students to earn college credit, Kemp said. About 30 percent of the students there are taking dual enrollment classes.
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Michelle Reese, East Valley Tribune