Bridging the Gap: Programs for Earning College Credit in High School


Earning college credit while still in high school can afford students many wonderful opportunities. For instance, by the time a student graduates from high school, he or she can have a jump-start in training for the military, jobs, technical schools or college - often at a reduced tuition cost or, in some cases, even free. This month's column looks at the programs that provide high school students college-level credit prior to graduation.

Opportunities for College Credit

The following are examples of the types of programs that are currently available to high school students:

  • Co-op courses. These are courses offered during normal school hours that earn students credit at a "cooperative" college, which has a prearranged agreement with the participating high school. It's important to note that the high school curriculum and its instructors must meet specific requirements to teach these courses. Students must also meet minimum grade requirements and/or pass an exam to earn the credit offered.
  • Dual enrollment. This allows high school students to simultaneously earn credit toward a high school diploma and a postsecondary degree or certificate. In an effort to provide students with college preparation opportunities, local, state and federal policies have been developed to promote more seamless connections between high schools and postsecondary institutions.
  • Early College High Schools. Early College High Schools are small schools from which all students graduate with an associate's degree or enough college credits to enter a four-year baccalaureate program as a college junior. These schools can also make higher education more accessible, affordable and attractive by bridging the divide between high school and college in a physical place.

Remember that to ensure success, it's a good idea for students to research multiple sources before deciding to take college-level courses in high school. Make sure every student checks with his or her school's guidance department, the college that is hosting the course and the state that applies in each student's particular instance.

Online Resources:

  • The Early College High School Initiative
    The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has partnered with Carnegie Corp. of New York, the Ford Foundation and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation to provide funding to establish 70 Early College High Schools by fall 2007. This site provides a multitude of resources related to the initiative.
  • Building Bridges Not Barriers: Public Policies that Support Seamless K-16 Education
    Because K-12 and postsecondary systems traditionally are governed by different agencies, the creation of such integrated systems will require external policy leadership at the state level. This October 2002 policy brief from the Education Commission of the States discusses the issues and possible solutions to this challenge.
  • National Association of System Heads
    This is the official Web site for a membership organization made up of 52 public higher education systems' CEOs in 38 states and Puerto Rico. A major commitment of NASH is to work with K-12 systems and civic leaders to build statewide K-16 vehicles to promote and carry out a coordinated, standards-based education reform strategy. The site features a membership directory and various other resources.
  • What Role Can Dual Enrollment Programs Play in Easing the Transition Between High School and Postsecondary Education?
    This U.S. Education Department's Office of Vocational and Adult Education commissioned paper, which opens as a Word document online, explores the effectiveness and potential of dual enrollment programs nationwide.

Contact Judith B. Rajala, M.A., president and founder of, at

This article originally appeared in the 11/01/2003 issue of THE Journal.

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