Note: The following information below was shared with Polk.Today by the Polk School District. Photos were contributed courtesy of Gail Conner. Individual student photos can be purchased at her site at – KtE

Tuesday afternoon saw another group of Polk School District seniors celebrated for their academic achievements in high school and college at the same time. It might be the last for a long time, thanks to an update by the 2021 General Assembly to the laws governing how much the state will pay for dual enrollment.

Here’s an outline of the dual enrollment program from the Polk School District on how many have participated in the program, and how many have graduated with an Associate Degree as well:

Over the past six years, the partnership between Polk School District and Georgia Highlands College (GHC) has proven to be a tremendous asset for the students we serve and the Polk County Community as a whole. Throughout our partnership, 139 students have taken Dual Enrollment courses with Georgia Highlands College.

Of these students, 59 have completed an Associate Degree from Georgia Highlands College–two weeks before they graduated from their respective high school.

We currently have 120 students accepted and registered to take GHC courses during the 2021-2022 school year. While this is our last class of students that will be able to graduate with an Associate Degree through Georgia’s Dual Enrollment program, our partnership remains strong and enrollment continues to grow.

Many have questioned why we are not able to continue offering this program option to future students. On July 1, 2020, House Bill 444 went into effect. HB 444, also known as The Dual Enrollment Act limited the number of credit hours for DE students to 30 hours.

Up to this point, there was no cap on the number of credit hours students could complete while in high school. As a result, the costs of the program grew from $49 million in 2016 to $105 million in 2019 (Georgia Student Finance Commission Annual Report).

The hour cap was a way for the state to cut spending while allowing for the continuation of the program. However, with a credit hour cap of 30 hours, students cannot earn a bachelor’s degree which requires 60+ credit hours.

Students/Parents can choose to pay for tuition out-of-pocket, but we typically do not recommend this as students will most likely qualify for either HOPE Grant/Scholarship or Zell Miller Scholarship (GPA and SAT/ACT requirements) upon graduation if they plan to attend a college in the University System of Georgia or the Technical College System of Georgia. HOPE Grant/Scholarship and Zell Miller Scholarship can cover 80-100 percent of post-secondary tuition.

Many ask about the importance of the Dual Enrollment program and why students should participate. The value of this program is derived from the exposure, the experience, and the opportunity that our students are afforded in preparing for the next step in their educational career. One of our main areas of focus is the transition from secondary to post-secondary expectations.

As college retention rates remain a high priority at the post-secondary level, we believe, if implemented correctly, the Dual Enrollment program can serve to bridge this transitional gap for many students. One of the most common barriers we have encountered is that students struggle to develop a true understanding of not only what is expected but also how to meet that expectation at the post-secondary level.

In most cases, it is not simply the course load that inhibits student success. Rather, we see barriers in communication strategies, navigation of online platforms, financial aid processes, etc. We strive to provide one-on-one advisement for students and parents in addressing these needs. In addition, through maintaining an open line of communication with previous graduates, we have seen that students complete their degree programs early and are able to enter the workforce in their chosen field of study.

We had the unique experience this year to not only see twenty-one PSD graduates walk across the stage at GHC graduation but were also able to attend the second GHC graduation for one of our former students—Guillermo (Memo) Aguilar. Memo graduated from Georgia Highlands College and Cedartown High School in 2018 and went on to pursue a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Management at GHC after graduation.

At 21, Memo plans to continue his post-secondary journey at Berry College where he will pursue a Master’s in Business Administration. Another student that participated in Dual Enrollment at GHC graduated from Shorter University this spring. At 20 years old, she has accepted a job with Polk School District to begin her career as an Elementary Teacher in the Fall.

Overall, this partnership provides an extra layer of support for students during this transitional time in their educational career. Our students not only gain exposure to high rigor college coursework, they also walk away with invaluable experience in the form of understanding collegiate terminology, increased student responsibility and accountability, proficiently navigating online resources and more.

Many of these factors often play a large role in student success when transitioning to the post-secondary environment. In this sense, our students are not simply ‘getting ahead’ they are coming away from their secondary experience fully equipped with the resources and knowledge they need to be successful at the post-secondary level.

Throughout our partnership, Polk School District has observed numerous positive outcomes with regard to students that participate in the Dual Enrollment Program. In today’s educational environment it has become clear that there does not exist a singular approach that fits every students needs and aspirations.

Dual Enrollment provides opportunities for our students that cannot be provided at the secondary level alone. Many of our students go in to their senior year with only one or two courses needed to complete their high school graduations requirements.

Dual Enrollment allows students to take advantage of this extra time and truly utilize this as a transitional year. By exposing students to the higher-level expectation at the collegiate level they are not simply earning college credit, saving money and time, or getting ahead in their educational career. These students are able to begin their first year of college in an environment that is strictly focused on ensuring they enter the traditional post-secondary setting with a comprehensive knowledge and understanding of what is expected of them.

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