A goal in mind
Casey Hahney, 21, of Hammond, is working on an associate degree at Ivy Tech Community College Northwest. Hahney earned her first college credits while in high school by taking a class at the Hammond Area Career Center.

Thanks to a dual credit program at her high school, Casey Hahney, of Hammond, was able to transfer her credits and enroll at Ivy Tech Community College Northwest.

Dual credit is designed for high school juniors and seniors, enabling them to earn college credits while fulfilling high school requirements.

Educators say dual credit may not mean that students will finish college in less than four years but it may reduce the number of students finishing in six years.

Local colleges and universities recently reported six-year graduation rates in 2008 well below 50 percent, also less than the national average of 55.9 percent.

Not every high school graduate will go on to college. But for those who do, a basic high school diploma may not give them the preparation they need. Dual credit classes range from English to anatomy or engineering. It saves times and money, and gives students a leg up, helping to prepare them for a successful college career.

Hahney, 21, graduated from Clark Middle/High School in 2008, enrolling at Ivy Tech in the fall of 2009.

The medical terminology class that Hahney took at the Hammond Area Career Center transferred over, giving her the prerequisite she needed to take phlebotomy.

"Dual credit is awesome," she said while in a summer class at Ivy Tech. "Dual credit shows you the realities of life outside of high school. Medical terminology is essential if you want to do anything in the medical field. Ultimately, I want to become an emergency room nurse. Right now, I'm going to get a degree in paramedic science and be a paramedic. That will give me some emergency room experience before I get into nursing."

Ivy Tech Community College Northwest is the only local institution offering the classes tuition-free to students while other institutions offer them at a reduced rate. Calumet College of St. Joseph does not offer dual credit.

Ken Rosenblum, Ivy Tech's director of K12 Initiatives, and Deborah Halik, vice chancellor of academic affairs, said dual credit has become a major focus in the past three to five years.

Rosenblum said last school year nearly 3,000 students in a seven-county area took dual credit classes, saving in the neighborhood of $800,000. Students are counted each time they enroll in a class.

He expects the number of students to increase this fall by 20 percent with a similar increase in savings.

Before a course can be dual credit, Halik said officials carefully review the materials to meet the rigor of a college-level class, along with reviewing teacher credentials.

With increasing national and international competition, the Indiana Commission for Higher Education says the economic well-being of Indiana residents and the quality of life of the state’s communities are tied directly to the strength of public education. The commission considers ensuring access to high-quality education an economic imperative and a moral obligation.

The commission focuses on six key areas, moving from access to success, making college affordable, preparing K-12 teachers, school leaders and students for college success, focusing the role of community colleges, strengthening Indiana's major research universities and embracing accountability for results.

Still not every high school student takes advantage of dual credit classes nor do they remain in the class. Rosenblum estimated about 3 percent may drop the class.

In addition to working with Ivy Tech, Crown Point High School is using a $50,000 Indiana Department of Education grant to operate a program with Indiana University Northwest and Purdue University Calumet through which students take a variety of college classes at $15 per credit hour.

Cindi Czapla, Valparaiso University's continuing education academic adviser, said VU charges students $150 per credit hour.

Dual credit programs at Purdue University North Central have been in existence for many years, said Sue Wilson, PNC's director of school partnerships. This fall, classes will be $98.12 per credit hour, still a savings to students. They are free to students who receive free or reduced price lunch.

Wilson said PNC has developed a teacher training program that includes departmental workshops and ongoing interaction between academic dual credit assessment coordinators through blackboard, e-mail, phone and site visits.

For the first time this year, Ivy Tech will host a training session beginning Sept. 20.

Meanwhile, the crowded parking lot and classrooms at Ivy Tech have not escaped Hahney's attention.

"Enrollment is definitely up here," she said of the Ivy Tech campuses.

Hahney thinks some people go to school solely for the financial aid. She said once they get the money, class size drops off.

"Some people don't take college seriously," she said. "It's not high school. It's not supposed to be easy. They offer tutoring and other resources to help people. It's up to you to utilize them."