Charlottesville, Albemarle students earning college credit in high school

Some of Charlottesville and Albemarle’s students are learning in two places at once.

Eligible juniors and seniors in both Charlottesville City Schools and Albemarle County Public Schools are taking dual-enrollment classes, college-level courses that are taught in a student’s home high school.

“The vast majority of our kids are going to take higher education in some way or another,” said Jay Thomas, principal of Albemarle High School. “It’s a great opportunity for our kids to go ahead and see what it feels and sounds like, the work that goes into it and the difference between college-and high school-level classes.”

The classes are run through Piedmont Virginia Community College, which offers 12 dual-enrollment options for students, who can take the classes for free.

Students must be a junior or senior, have parental permission and meet a course’s prerequisites to take a dual-enrollment class through PVCC. Additionally, students need to demonstrate college-readiness by meeting certain benchmark scores on tests like the SAT, ACT or the Virginia Placement Test, which PVCC administers to incoming students.

Andrew Renshaw, PVCC’s dual enrollment coordinator, said a common misconception is that dual-enrollment and advanced placement courses are the same.

“AP is not a college course, it’s a high school course that allows you to take a test, and based on your performance on a test, a college may or may not offer you credit,” Renshaw said, noting that dual-enrollment credits transfer to other schools. “When a student is in dual enrollment, they are earning credit the whole time as if they were in a class at any college.”

This year, 138 Charlottesville students and 694 Albemarle students are taking dual-enrollment classes. Last year, 96 percent of Charlottesville’s dual-enrollment students passed, while 99 percent of Albemarle’s students passed.

Asia Fortune, a senior at Charlottesville High School, said she likes that her dual-enrollment classes are often lecture-based, which allows her to be more thorough as the class moves through each topic.

Andrew Gamma, also a Charlottesville senior, said that while difficulty depends on the course, he prefers dual-enrollment to advanced placement because dual-enrollment doesn’t require students to pass a test in order to earn credit.

“If you pass the class, you pass the class,” Gamma said. “And AP classes are taught to the test, whereas in dual enrollment you’re just being taught. It’s a different feel.”

Albemarle High School senior Cameron Green agreed. Green is taking an engineering course and said group projects allow for trial and error.

“It’s more learning as you do work, rather than trying to learn something and then produce something from that,” Green said.

But making the leap to college curriculum doesn’t come without challenges.

Gamma said scheduling is his biggest challenge.

“Especially since PVCC is on a semester schedule and Charlottesville High School is on a full-year schedule,” Gamma said. “If the classes don’t line up correctly after the first semester, then I might have to switch around classes [at CHS], which is more difficult to do.”

Fortune said that adjusting to the pace of dual-enrollment courses has been tough. In traditional high school classes, she said, students receive numerous small assignments and are graded on homework often. In dual-enrollment classes, however, Fortune said that you’re assigned fewer tasks that are larger in scope and take more time to complete.

“I think it’s just making sure that you keep up with your deadlines,” Fortune said. “That can be the hardest part.”

PVCC’s Renshaw said that one of the obstacles the community college faces is teacher qualification.

“We’re limited to what the high school has someone qualified to be able to teach,” Renshaw said, noting that instructors need a master’s degree and 18 graduate hours in the discipline.

“It’s easier for us to find someone with a master’s degree in English at a high school than it is to find someone with a master’s degree in physics,” Renshaw added.

Despite the new emphasis on leaving high school with college credits in hand, the students don’t feel like they’re being rushed through the system.

“In general it’s probably nicer taking all of these classes before college, because you’ll get into college and maybe have some room to take some different classes as opposed to taking these general education classes that we may have otherwise had to take,” Gamma said.

Fortune agreed.

“It’s on us to decide what classes we take while we’re here, and how many we take,” Fortune said. “I think it helps when you’re about to go off to college and you’ve already got some of those credits out of the way.”

What’s more, Gamma noted that taking these classes in high school ensures small class sizes that colleges might not offer for introduction courses that can often soar into the hundreds of students per class.

Green said that he feels a small amount of pressure to complete dual enrollment classes in order to keep up with his peers, but said it’s ultimately a personal choice to do so.

That said, Green thinks the opportunity to get ahead can be a good thing.

“It makes you think about the track you want to take more,” Green said.