PVCC's Kluge Moses Science Education Facility

Leaving high school with a head start on college coursework will become easier this August. If a student chooses to do so they may earn an associate degree, or a general studies certificate, by the time they graduate high school, and with a significant cost savings.

Passed in 2012 by the Virginia Legislature, House Bill 1184 mandates that an agreement be set up between the Virginia Community College System and the high schools that surround each community college.

While this opportunity is available now to the dedicated student, John Donnelly, vice president for instruction and student services at Piedmont Virginia Community College, says that students will be able to get on this path sooner.

“It  will provide a concrete pathway,” said Donnelly.  “We will be able to let parents and students know as early as the seventh and eighth grades, that if you want an associate degree before you graduate, you can do it and here is exactly how.”

Currently students have 3 options for gaining college credit. They may take dual enrollment courses taught at their high school, Advanced Placement (AP) classes and the subsequent tests, or they may attend classes on a community college campus.

While those options will remain, the dual degree pathway will now be available to students. Administrators and teachers will have increased knowledge of the dual degree system and more information will be made available to parents and students.

“Students must take placement tests in mathematics, reading, and writing, and they have to score on those tests in the college ready range that says they are ready to take these classes,” said Donnelly. “It is a requirement for the student to take dual enrollment courses and for courses taken here on the PVCC campus.”

The state mandate does not say that all the agreements must be the same.

Albemarle County Public Schools will offer the associate degree of science and general studies.

Each high school in the county offers different dual enrollment and AP courses. This means some students may have to attend class at PVCC while other students can go to the same class at their high school.

“This degree offers the most flexibility for a student due to the number of electives it contains,” said county schools spokesman Phil Giaramita. “[This] is important for aligning with our dual enrollment and AP classes.”

“An important part of the County’s mission is to help students become college ready,” added Giaramita. “This will help students leave high school with the life skills for college.”

Along with the skills learned and credits gained, Giaramita stressed the practicality of this program.

“The costs of obtaining an Associate’s Degree through this program are estimated to be about $2,000 for the 60 credits,” said Giaramita. “This compares to PVCC costs of $8,000 if you were a student enrolled full-time in the community college and costs are at least double that for many of the state colleges and universities.”

As tuition costs and student loan rates increase for four year institutions, parents and students may look to these programs as a way to accelerate learning and save money.

The plan is much the same for Charlottesville City Schools, however the degree programs offered will be much more focused on individual courses of study.

“We are picking three degree programs, Computer Science, Biotechnology, and Engineering, as well as a Computer Technician certificate,” says Beth Baptist, director of student services and achievement.

“These programs were chosen in connection with our lab schools and UVA to create a more cohesive STEM initiative,” added Baptist.

Baptist went on to estimate that the program would cost $1,500, but she noted that the City School Board may pay a portion of those costs.

“One of the objectives from our strategic plan is to create a college going culture,” says Baptist. “We want all students to believe they can go to college.”