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  • Writer's pictureTiffany Millen

Everything you need to know about concurrent enrollment but didn't know to ask...

Updated: Jul 8, 2023



Over the last week this topic has come onto my radar a few times. A high school counselor I know expressed the need for better information as she sees too many students missing out on this opportunity. This morning I had a conversation with a mother who had no idea any of this was even a thing. I decided it was time to get it in writing so those who have questions can find answers. This is long, but it is the result of 6 years of experience helping both high school and college students navigate the junior college system.


If I had known then what I know now…


When my oldest was in high school, we were aware of the option to do college classes for dual credit, but there were many issues that held us back. With this post, I want to demystify the process, answer the questions, and address the concerns so that you can make an informed decision for your students.


By way of background, my oldest has always been an over-achiever. Her test scores were off the charts, and her Type A perfectionism drove her to excel on every front. We could have saved her a year or more of college if we had been less apprehensive and gotten our act together sooner when she was in high school.


In her senior year, she did take one college class each semester so she had 6 units going into her freshman year of college. She is now in her 5th year after graduation and in her final semester of her Master’s Degree. She has managed to cut a full year off of her college program through hard work and determination alone.


In contrast, my youngest is far more carefree, less driven, and probably average to above average as a student. With her, we didn’t have the learning curve slowing us down so she started college classes in her sophomore year of high school. She will have a full year of college completed before she is a senior. Despite her more easy-going personality, she takes her classes seriously and she is maintaining a 4.0.


Should every high school student take college courses?


Probably not. Students who really struggle academically may find college classes to be too difficult. But even below-average students can succeed if you select courses carefully.


Part of our apprehension was not wanting to add additional stress for our oldest daughter because she was naturally worried that college level coursework would be challenging and she might damage her college GPA. She was concerned she wouldn’t be able to meet the very high standard she set for herself.


This was not the case. Most course work at the junior college level is very achievable for most high school students. Our oldest finished at the very top of both of the college classes she took in high school with more than the points possible in each class thanks to extra credit.


Here are the results of the first two Economics tests my daughter took her senior year. The average score on test 1 was 22%, and she got close to 100%. You can see the crazy gap on the graph. The professor told her, “Your study habits are not consistent with what we have come to expect from students. Homeschooling must have given you the wrong idea.” He was sarcastically saying that it is rare to find a student willing to apply themselves to learning the material.

The average score improved to 64% on the second test while Alyssa had a 97%. After the second test, the professor told the class, "You know guys, it is pretty embarrassing when the only high school student gets the highest grade in the class."


I’ve seen this over and over with our high school students. They tend to take the classes seriously and often that means they will do better than the college students.


In the last 6 years, I’ve watched dozens of high school students from all ability levels succeed in college courses. Some need a little more support than others, but there are tricks to setting your student up for success.


Rate My Professor


Gone are the days of rolling the dice when it comes to getting a good instructor. There is no question that a good teacher makes all the difference, and ratemyprofessor.com takes the guesswork out of course selection. Often professors have dozens of reviews so you can learn a great deal about the expectations of a class before you enroll your student.


Priority Enrollment


It isn’t quite as easy as just identifying the good classes. High school students have the very last priority when it comes time to enroll. By the time they are allowed to register for classes, many of the best teachers will have waiting lists.


To work around this issue, you need to have contingency plans in place. Have back-up options in the event your first choices fill. You may have to sift through available classes late in the process to come up with good teachers.


When it comes to competing for available classes, choosing the right college can make all the difference.


Which College?


In Sacramento, colleges in the Los Rios Community College District all have the same rules. These include American River College, Sacramento City College, Cosumnes River College, and Folsom Lake College. All of these will only accept students who are at least 16 or in the 11th grade. There is an appeal process for younger students but I know only 1 who successfully appealed, and I suspect she got lucky. These bureaucracies are set up to serve large numbers, and exceptions to the rules are rare.


Colleges in the Yuba Community College District (which includes Woodland Community College and Yuba College), as well as Sierra College in Rocklin, will accept students as young as 9th grade.


Because I didn’t want to commute to Woodland or Rocklin for classes with my older kids, we chose ARC which has a campus right here in Natomas. Our Natomas ARC campus has very limited course offerings, but two of my children took classes there with good success. They did have to wait until they were 16. My experience with ARC’s main campus is that classes fill very quickly while the Natomas campus often has space available for high school students.


Today, we choose Woodland Community College and Sierra College. The commute is a bummer, but we have had much better success getting the classes we want, and students can start as early as 9th grade. My youngest is in her 4th semester at Woodland CC. When classes were still on campus, we would often see other high school students we know. For our NHA families, WCC is definitely the first choice. For my college age students, Sierra College has been a much better experience than we had at ARC. I would recommend WCC or Sierra for high school students if you can accommodate the commute.


Classes at community colleges are completely tuition free for high school students which includes both private and charter homeschoolers. Private homeschoolers would have to pay for books which are covered by charter funds for charter students.


How do we enroll?


The process is similar at each college. They all use an on-line registration system known as Open CCC, and you’ll need a form provided by the college which has to be approved by a high school counselor.


Woodland Community College:


Sierra College:


ARC:


Do I really want my teen in a classroom with a bunch of college students?


We were concerned about how younger students might be treated and what kind of influence older students might have, but these issues have never materialized. This isn’t like going away to school and living in a dorm where you are going to be building friendships and encountering peer pressure. Community college classes don’t have the same social aspect you experience in other campus-based programs in my opinion. For the most part, students show up, attend class, and leave.


What about worldview?


We all homeschool for different reasons, but for many, having influence over the worldview your child encounters is one of them. College classrooms are somewhat notorious for their tendency to present a more progressive worldview. And this can certainly happen. It all goes back to the teacher. Often Rate My Professor will have information on any political agenda the teacher tends to push but not always.


We have encountered teachers from across the political spectrum. Last semester, three of my kids had a business law professor who was unashamed of his small government preference.


Here are excerpts from just two of his email messages:


“This frustration for students who want to work hard and get ahead, (frustration by excessive government in regulating college courses), is a perfect example of the same kind of thing that happens in the business, employment, and economic world in California - a State that basically has only one political party, and continues to drift into socialism.


So, if you're planning on spending your adult business life in California, get used to being frustrated.”


“Dear Students,


We have a government bureaucracy problem with our online course, and therefore, starting with the second course assignment, we have to modify the way that you enter your answers to assignments…


I'm sorry if this is an inconvenience to you. But it is also a good lesson with regard to how government micro-management and bureaucracy can cost you time, energy, and money. If you don't like that, then maybe you should start voting accordingly.”


When my oldest was a college freshman, the final project in her writing class required she read a book called, “God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything,” and write an essay either defending or refuting the logic in the book. This felt like a plot ripped right out of a movie. I was not amused. She read the book, wrote the paper, received a 100% on the final with glowing remarks from the teacher.


Though we had a happy ending, this is a situation you may not want your teen to face.


Worldview is a legitimate concern. The only assurance I can give you is that if you are not happy with how a class is going, you can drop without penalty or record typically during the first 20% of the semester. You can withdraw with a W on your college transcript during the first half of the semester. I don’t know how high schools would handle drops or withdrawals from college classes, but I suspect it wouldn’t hit a high school transcript at all.


What courses should my student take at the college?


Your high school student is required to take many of the same classes that they will need to fulfill their general education requirement for a college degree. Taking these classes at the high school level will result in taking most of them twice.


Your high school student needs one life science and one physical science. Any college degree will typically require one of each with a lab required on one or the other. If you take them at the community college, you get credit for both high school and college.


Your high school student is required to take 4 years of English. Any semester of English taken at the college level counts as two semesters of high school English. (This is true of most classes: 1 semester of college credit = 2 semesters of high school credit.) College students have to take a minimum of 2 semester of College English for a 4-year degree.


Your high school student has to take World History, American History, Government, and Economics. If you take these at the college level, you can complete each in one semester, and they count toward Humanities, Social Sciences, and History credits your student will need for any degree.


Most college bound students will take at minimum Algebra 1, Algebra 2, and Geometry in high school. Taking these at the college level requires a little more consideration. I would not recommend that a high school student attempt any of these math classes at the pace of a normal college class. Two semesters of high school algebra are typically completed in one semester when you get to college. Teens need more time to really grasp these concepts and master them. You want them to have a solid foundation for higher math. These classes are also considered high school level courses and are not transferable to a 4-year college. Transferable college level courses would typically start with College Algebra which is a step up from Algebra 2. Some colleges do offer these high school level math courses in a two-semester format which is the same pacing as a high school level course. If you want to take math at the JC, I would recommend the 2 semester courses.


What is the point of high school?


To me, traditional high school offers wonderful social opportunities for students. It can be a great deal of fun. One of my children got to attend a private high school part-time. He loved the social aspects of sports and dances and all of the extra-curricular activities high school affords. The academics were fine, but honestly, academics were secondary. They were the excuse to justify all of the other things.


If your student isn’t getting “all of the other things” out of their high school experience, then starting college classes make a great deal of sense.


For homeschoolers, college classes offer a great opportunity for students to get a head-start on their college education. It also allows students to complete high school faster. If your student would like to graduate early, they can easily finish high school in three years. If they don't want to graduate early, you do need to be sure to save one required class for the final semester of their senior year. Students who finish all high school requirements will be forced out of their charter whether they want to graduate early or not. I've seen this happen so it is worth noting.


Sadly, education has largely become a series of boxes to check. This is true at both the high school and college level where students will take many classes they do not care about, learning things they really do not need to know.


Even in a traditional school, pursuit of a college degree often starts in high school where students feel pressure to build a superior transcript to get into a prestigious college so they can spend several more years getting a degree. Burnout is a major problem. (For more on this topic, see the film “Race to Nowhere.”)


Statistically, the longer it takes to get the degree, the less likely a student is to finish. If you can accelerate the process, you will improve your student’s odds substantially. Among my daughter’s peers in the graduating class of 2016, two of our NHA graduates are getting a Master’s this year – a year early. I don’t believe any of the other students her age that we know have finished a 4-year degree yet. With each passing year, they become less likely to do so. 30% of college students drop out after 1 year. Only 40% will finish in 4 years. Students who don’t finish in 6 years become very unlikely to finish.


Not everyone needs to go to college, but if your student will pursue a career requiring a degree, getting a head-start is a great opportunity to avoid burnout and improve their odds of success.


Where does NHA fit?


NHA offers a few great core academic classes for high school. We offer IEW writing classes which will give your student tools to make them better college writers. College writing classes do not offer students the level of instruction they get in IEW. Not even close. I recommend two years of high school English such as IEW, and two semesters of college English. This will fulfill both the high school and college English requirement.


NHA offers high school math which really isn’t a transferable college class even if taken at the Jr. College as previously noted. We offer biology and chemistry labs which will prepare students for college level science classes which are faster paced and can be very challenging. Science comes in two categories at the college level: Science for science/math majors and science for non-science/math majors. I would not recommend high school students jump in to science for STEM majors without a solid background. Most of those classes have math pre-requisites that only college students will have anyway.


Most 4-year college degrees will require 2 years of foreign language but it doesn't matter if you take those in high school or in college. NHA offers ASL or Spanish both of which check the box for high school and college.


NHA also shines in life skills and elective courses you won’t find other places. All high school students have to take a minimum number of high school level classes each semester through their charter. I don’t know if all charters are the same, but 3 high school classes are the minimum at some charters. NHA offers practical classes that are far more valuable in my opinion than college classes that simply check a box. Learning to manage money and avoid debt; how to offer first aid, perform CPR, and respond in emergencies; how to operate a camera to take a wonderful picture; how to identify a logical fallacy on the news, or on social media, or in a politician’s speech; understanding the principles of a well-reasoned debate; and on and on - these are skills everyone should have, but too few actually do.


NHA also provides a place for high school students to interact with same-age peers in a learning environment and form friendships that extend outside the classroom. We provide an opportunity for some of the “fun stuff” of a high school experience, practical skills everyone should take with them into adulthood, and the flexible schedule required to out-source some of the academic pieces to college classes that will give students a head-start on the next phase of their education.


Students enrolled in traditional brick and mortar high school programs will find it very difficult to make their schedule work with college classes, but homeschoolers can have the best of both worlds. NHA was intentionally designed this way by parents just like you.


If your student is a little apprehensive about trying college classes, enrolling with a friend is a great source of comfort and having a built-in study partner can be a huge asset. This picture was taken on first day of college classes at the start of my youngest daughter's Sophomore year. She has yet to take a class without one of her BFFs. All three of them will graduate from high school with close to 2 years of college credit.


If you have questions or need more information, please reach out to me at tiffany.millen@hackschooling.net.



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