Is Dual Enrollment In High School A Key to Lowering College Costs?

With the escalating cost of college as well as the heavy debt load many students graduate with, parents welcome any alternative that will help reduce the cost

As more and more people come to this realization, there are more and more techniques to help students graduate college more quickly with a minimal amount of debt.

One of those new strategies is taking college level classes while one is still in high school.

For years, high school students have been able to take AP (advanced placement) courses, and if they pass a test, they can often opt out of that class in college.  Some students could easily shave a year off their college education if they were very motivated and not daunted by the difficult level of AP classes.

However, now, some high schools are taking this a step farther.

High Schools That Encourage Dual High School and College Enrollment

Is dual enrollment key in lowering college costs?

Some high schools like Dayton Early College Academy in Ohio encourage their students to take college classes while still enrolled in high school.  At Dayton Early College Academy, “students simultaneously enroll in classes at nearby Sinclair Community College and start earning college credits as early as their sophomore year” (CNN Money).

There are several advantages to doing this.

Statistically, high school students who have early exposure to college level classes are more likely to be successful in college than those without early exposure.

In addition, “students enrolled in early college high schools earn an average of 36 college credits, nearly a third the number they’ll need for a bachelor’s degree” (CNN Money).  When you consider that tuition alone at most state universities runs upwards of $5,000 a year, taking these classes can add up to a significant savings on the overall college bill.

Finally, when high school students take college level classes, they get them at a significant discount or may not have to pay out of pocket at all.  “Since high school students are technically still enrolled in their local school districts their tuition, fees and textbooks are paid for by state funding for public-school education” (CNN Money).

Another Alternative–Fifth Year High School

In other states such as Oregon and Colorado, there is another alternative:  fifth year high school.

The student enrolls in high school for five years, and during the fifth year they attend a nearby community college.

This benefits both the student and the college.  The student gets exposure to college classes while still residing under the protective umbrella of the high school, and the college gets an extra year to groom the student for college level classes.  Then, when the student enrolls as an actual college student, he’ll be more prepared than he would have otherwise been.

Drawbacks to These Alternative Programs

On the surface, AP classes, dual enrollment high schools and fifth year high schools sound like a win.

What’s not to like?

Your child gets college credit at a steep discount, thereby reducing the overall amount required to get a college degree.  Ideally, he’ll finish college earlier than his peers and will also owe less money.  In addition, he’ll be better prepared than his peers when he enrolls in college full-time.

Those benefits are important, but equally important are the drawbacks.

If your child earns too many college credits before he enters college, he will likely not be eligible for scholarships that are only open to college freshman because he’ll have earned enough college credit already to be considered a college sophomore.

A way around this is to have the student take CLEP (College Level Examination Program) tests AFTER he’s enrolled in college.  The CLEP test can show if he has mastery in certain subjects, and if he does, he can test out of those college level classes.  He would, of course, have to forfeit taking college classes in high school.

Another drawback is that some colleges may not accept the college credits.  While the vast majority do, there may be some highly competitive or selective colleges that will not recognize the college credits or will only recognize a portion of them.

Finally, some students simply aren’t mature enough to know what they want to do at such a young age.

I worked with a woman who pushed her daughter to take AP classes.  The daughter took so many, that she completed college in 2.5 years, when she was only 20.  While she left college with no debt, she was lost for several years and ultimately ended up going to grad school in a completely different field because at 18 she had been just too young to decide what she wanted to do with the rest of her life.

Still, having these options gives both parents and students yet another group of strategies to add to their arsenal of ways to lower the financial burden of college.

Have you had any experience with these alternative college solutions? Let us know!

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Published or updated June 9, 2014.


  1. Melissa,

    This is so spot on! Our oldest had enough college credits entering college to shave a year off her university time, BUT when she went to transfer colleges not all of the classes were accepted. Who knew??!! We live and we learn. I know for the next child going through to set our expectations lower.

    Thanks for this post!

  2. We actually have really good friends who just finished doing something like this with their son. He just graduated and is walking into college with about 1 1/2 years of college credits under his belt. He staying locally for college, which means he’ll be living at home and saving even more money that way. I believe they only rejected one class so it worked out fairly well for him. That said, I do think this should be looked at on a case by case basis as if you don’t know what you want to go into it could be a waste of time and money in the long run.

  3. Our middle one took a number of AP courses in high school, but Northwestern would only accept two classes. The good news, however, is that she was able to finish a quarter early a decent savings given the costs there even with some scholarships and the like.

    • Glen Craig says:

      That’s awesome to hear Roger! Yeah, some schools won’t take all of the credit or exams you take but you can still get ahead.

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