The cost of four years of college is steep, even at a public university. So, here’s an idea: Why not reduce the bill by encouraging your teenager to arrive on campus with one, two, or more semesters already completed?
There are several ways students can earn college credit while still in high school, such as taking Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate classes.
Another increasingly popular option: Signing up for your state’s dual-enrollment program, like Ohio’s College Credit Plus.
Earning College Credits in High School—For Free!
How Dual Enrollment Works
Most states now offer dual enrollment programs, which allow students to take classes for free and simultaneously earn high school and college credit. In Ohio, those credits are guaranteed to transfer to any public institution in the state. So, if your high schooler enrolls in College Credit Plus and takes a history class at your local community college, they can take those credits with them to The Ohio State University, Ohio University, The University of Cincinnati, or any of the state’s other public four-year or two-year colleges. Some high schools even offer CCP classes right in the building.
“College Credit Plus is a phenomenal program if you’re serious about reducing college costs,” says Joe Messinger, co-founder and director of college planning for Columbus-based Capstone Wealth Partners. “You’re earning college credit for free while you’re still in high school.”
The savings can certainly add up. During the 2017-2018 school year, more than 70,000 of Ohio’s high school students participated in College Credit Plus, which will save those students an estimated $148 million—or about $2,000 per student on average—in college costs, according to Ohio’s Department of Higher Education.
Note that private colleges or out-of-state public institutions aren’t required to take dual enrollment credits, but they might. You’ll want to ask these institutions how they handle such credits before enrolling.
Part of a Smart Savings Strategy
Families can use these free credits, in addition to their own savings, as part of their broader paying-for-college strategy, explains Ben Gibbons, the director of marketing for the Ohio Tuition Trust Authority, which manages Ohio’s 529 Plan, CollegeAdvantage.
“The bottom line is that if you have more saved than what you initially thought you needed, there are plenty of ways to put that money to use,” says Gibbons. Money that doesn’t need to go towards tuition can be put toward room and board, textbooks, or other fees.
Arriving on campus with extra credits may offer some financial protection if your student decides to change their major. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 80 percent of college students will change their major at least once.
“Many students go down a path and realize it’s not for them,” says Gibbons. Often, this can mean an extra semester or two of college, which, of course, means an extra semester or two of tuition, room and board, and other costs. “But students who have earned extra credits may still be able to complete their degree in four years,” explains Gibbons.
Students interested in pursuing dual enrollment classes should start by talking to their high school advisor. Many states have requirements for entry into the program. In Ohio, for example, students must take an assessment exam and have a minimum 3.0 GPA—or a recommendation from their counselor—to be eligible for the program.
But most states, including Ohio, have worked hard to make dual enrollment widely accessible. And with good reason, says Gibbons: It works. “This is something concrete your student can do now to make college more affordable when the time comes.”