Schools and colleges in Bulloch County are taking steps to inform parents of two new Georgia laws that give high school students more opportunities than ever before to complete as much as two years of college - free of tuition and most fees - while in high school.
About 50 students and 100 parents attended the first of two countywide information meetings. It was held after school hours Sept. 3. The second session is scheduled for 10 a.m. until noon Thursday, also in the Statesboro High School Auditorium.
"We want to make parents and students aware of the changes for dual enrollment and the options that Move On When Ready provides for students," said Monica Lanier, the Bulloch County Schools assistant superintendent for organizational effectiveness. "We encourage any parents that were not able to be there on the third to try to attend the Sept. 17 session."
The Move On When Ready Act of 2015, passed as Senate Bill 132, consolidates Georgia's previous dual enrollment programs. These included Accel, which paid high school students' tuition for approved college and university academic courses, and the dual enrollment HOPE Grant, often used at technical colleges.
The new MOWR Act also replaces an older law of the same name that allowed 11th- and 12th-graders to apply credits from certain college courses to high school graduation requirements.
"All of that is combined into one program now with one set of guidelines so that it's less confusing for parents and students and counselors and everybody involved," Lanier said.
Less high school
Meanwhile, Senate Bill 2, which also took effect July 1, allows students to earn a high school diploma with fewer than half the usually required high school courses, if they meanwhile achieve one of three college milestones. These options include earning an associate degree, a technical diploma or two approved technical college certificates in one career path. Students taking the technical diploma or certificate paths must also complete the training requirements for any certification or license required to work in their field.
Completing one of these options reduces a student's required high school courses to two each in English, math, science and social studies plus one course in health and physical education. Students must also pass any required End of Course Tests.
Dual-enrolled students who complete fewer college classes than needed for a two-year degree will still earn both high school and college credits for the specific courses.
"Students are going to receive credit in both places for taking that one course," said Teresa Phillips, the school system's College, Technical and Agricultural Education director, "and it doesn't matter if that course is taught during the high school day or outside of the day."
Dual credits can be earned for college courses provided at the high schools, as well as for courses on a college or university campus. Students can earn high school credits through college evening classes, approved online classes, and, for the first time, summer courses.
Unlike the old MOWR, which was limited to high school juniors and seniors, the new program is available to students beginning in ninth grade, if they meet college admissions requirements.
Erin Ragland, 15 and in 10th grade at Statesboro High, is already dual enrolled, taking one class with Ogeechee Technical College. But she wants to go to medical school and possibly become a surgeon, and is now considering Georgia Southern University for more early credits.
"We're trying to get some of the core classes done while she's still in high school to save a lot of money," said her father, Harry Ragland. "I think she's smart enough and mature enough that I don't have any issues."
More for free
The revamped program, with added state funding, also pays any generally required fees, in addition to full tuition. These fees often total several hundred dollars per semester and are not covered by a HOPE Grant or Scholarship after students have graduated from high school.
Dual-enrolled students will still have to pay any course-specific fees, such as for a uniform for a nursing course. But participating colleges and universities are now required to provide textbooks free to enrolled high school students. Students will return the books when they finish the class, Phillips explained.
"While you are in high school, if you can bank college credit ... you need to take advantage of that, because it is not going to be free when you graduate, even with a HOPE Scholarship," said OTC Dean of Students Jan Moore.
The Georgia Student Finance Commission is assigned to award the funding and monitor its use.
As was already true of Accel and the dual-enrolled HOPE Grant, MOWR credit hours will not count against a student's eligibility for HOPE after graduating high school.
Representatives of Georgia Southern, Ogeechee Tech and East Georgia State College took part in the parent meeting. Dual enrollment has increased on all three campuses, they said.
Not all are ready
To participate, students must first meet the college or university's admission requirements. These include minimum scores, which vary by institution, on the SAT, the ACT, or in some cases, the Compass test. Georgia Southern and East Georgia also require a minimum 3.0 unweighted grade-point average in high school academic courses.
But some teenagers who win admission may not be ready for college, counselors are cautioning parents.
"You need to look at the whole picture and you need to look at your student," said Tiffany Weathers, a Statesboro High School counselor. "We have students here that are so smart, but they don't have the motivation. They test well."
A high school student who is disorganized, a perfectionist, easily overwhelmed, unassertive, unwilling to ask for help, or a procrastinator probably isn't ready to dual-enroll, suggested a slide in the presentation.
"It's a great opportunity, but it's only a great opportunity if it's right for you," Moore added.
Both the student and a parent are expected to talk with the student's high school counselor before deciding. A program application, required each semester, must be signed by a parent and a counselor.
Another 15-year-old SHS 10th-grader, Thomas Bruner, is interested in math and robotics and thinks he might transfer to Georgia Tech after a couple of years at Georgia Southern. Looking into starting spring semester, he accompanied his mother, Marla Bruner, to the meeting.
"He likes the challenge, and so I'm looking forward to him having some more rigor, I guess, and having the opportunity to get into college a little bit early and get his feet wet before leaving home," she said. "So that's advantageous, as well as the cost savings. The fact that it doesn't cut off any of your HOPE grant is really exciting."
One of several paths to more info is www.gafutures.org.
Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.