How High School Courses Can Help Minimize College Costs

For students looking to reduce their debt load, it can pay to start accumulating credits early.

Every Tuesday at 6:15 p.m., Luca Miraldi settles into a desk at Villanova University’s Driscoll Hall. For the next two-and-a-half hours, the high school senior will learn about, discuss and experience Augustinian values as part of the “Faith, Reason and Culture” class. Now in his final year at Devon Preparatory School in Devon, Pa., Miraldi is part of the Villanova Partnership program. He applied early to the school and hopes to major in communication should he be accepted.

The partnership offers students with GPAs of 3.5 or higher the opportunity to take classes in Villanova’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and College of Professional Studies, along with its business and engineering schools. “There are a lot of benefits,” says Miraldi. “There’s an accountability that comes with it. You have to find your way through campus and work with other classmates when you don’t always see them. I’ve had two group projects—it’s good practice.”

Around the region, other high schools have forged similar relationships with colleges and universities—and it’s literally paying off for students. Accumulating credits while still in high school helps mitigate the cost of a post-secondary education. Some programs are single-source relationships like Devon Prep’s, while other schools have ties to several institutions. In some, students can accumulate up to 24 credits—about 75 percent of a full college year.

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“Parents are interested in reducing the number of credits they will need to finance college.”

There’s plenty of opportunity in Delaware, too. According to the state’s Department of Education, 2,858 public school students took part in dual enrollment programs in 2018-19, an increase of 361 from the previous year. Schools have relationships with Del Tech, Wilmington University, Delaware State and, to a lesser extent, the University of Delaware.

According to Shana Payne, director of higher education for the department, this has been around for several years, but has gained considerable traction more recently. “There are a number of reasons growth has been spurred,” she says. “The first is that we’re exposing students to college courses. The other is affordability. Parents are interested in reducing the number of credits they will need to finance college.”

At Neumann University in Aston, Pa., a three-credit course costs about $3,000. Students at nearby Bonner & Prendergast Catholic High School who take a class as part of an affiliation with Neumann pay just $300. “It’s a much cheaper way to gain college credits,” says Lawrence DiPaolo, Neumann’s vice president for academic affairs.

Lower Merion and Radnor high schools have met on the football field 123 times, the nation’s longest continuous public school contest. That’s a lot of games. So it makes sense that these Delaware Valley schools would offer a head start on college credits at institutions that have built up some of their own animus over the years. Lower Merion has a connection with Penn State, while Radnor partners with the University of Pittsburgh. “My nephew goes to Pitt, and my niece goes to Penn State,” says Radnor principal Panayota Kevgas, whose three children will soon begin the college journey.

Radnor forged its relationship with Pitt four years ago. This year, 24 of its students are taking a three-credit linear algebra class taught by a Radnor faculty member that lasts a full year and costs just $280. Thanks to an extended dose of material covered in the second semester, it also offers them the chance to take the AP exam. Radnor teachers interested in participating in the program undergo initial training at Pitt, returning each year for a refresher.

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Related Article: The 2020 Guide to Colleges in Delaware and Southeastern Pennsylvania

In Delaware, Red Clay School District’s five high schools have relationships with all four participating Delaware colleges. The district is most closely aligned with Del Tech, where high school seniors have the opportunity to graduate with as many as 21 credits. Students pay just $100 for a three-credit course. AP classes require a test at the end of the semester, but students in this program need only pass the dual enrollment classes for credit. “If I’m advising a student, I would tell him or her that dual enrollment is the way to go,” says Sam Golder, Red Clay School District’s director of secondary education.

Administrators understand that taking courses through a particular college doesn’t necessarily translate into enrollment freshman year. “We offer them with no guarantee that a student is coming here,” says Neumann’s DiPaolo. “It’s good for the community; it’s good for the higher education landscape. We’re getting our name in the high schools.”

In addition to providing college credits, Neumann sponsors an early acceptance program, which helps its enrollment rate remain steady, DiPaolo reports. Such programs also help parents, who are looking for any opportunity they can to mitigate costs and prevent their kids from taking on substantial debt. DiPaolo’s son earned 21 credits in high school and is now a freshman-plus at Penn State. “Parents are incredibly price conscious about college education,” he says. “They’re eager for their daughters and sons to take part in dual credit options and AP classes.”


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More often than not, dual college credits transfer to any college. The only variable is how an institution views the classes. Students taking college-level business classes in high school, for example, may see them downgraded to general education credits and not accepted as upper-level courses. That in mind, Neumann works with other schools’ registrars to make sure they know the classes were taught by college professors and entail the same level of work required in a Neumann classroom. “They have to be identical to our courses,” says DiPaolo of the high school classes.

Ultimately, DiPaolo doesn’t envision a scenario where programs provide high school and college degrees in, say, six years. But he does think that more and more students will take advantage of opportunities to trim the time they’ll spend on campus. “Students can certainly handle introductory level courses as juniors and seniors in high school,” DiPaolo says.

Bonner & Prendergast’s Connor Eagan has enjoyed his “Introduction to Marketing” course. “We’re getting more of a college way of thinking,” he says. “We have a small group of kids in the class, so we’re answering more questions and doing more assignments.”

At Bonner & Prendergast, anywhere from 50 to 150 students take up to two college courses per semester. “We have waiting lists because the classes only enroll 22 students,” says Annemarie Dolceamore, the school’s assistant principal for student affairs.

Students who may not have seen themselves as college candidates can now envision a clearer path to higher education. “It boosts confidence,” she says. “A lot of alumni say, ‘Thank God I took at least one college course before I graduated. On the first day of college, I knew what everything was.’ They felt comfortable.”

And had a little more money in their pockets. 

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