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November 27, 2014

Cleburne County students get early chance at college credit

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Posted: Wednesday, August 27, 2014 5:42 pm | Updated: 6:31 pm, Wed Aug 27, 2014.

HEFLIN — Students at Cleburne County High School have the opportunity to take Jacksonville State University classes on the high school grounds for the first time this school year.

Through a partnership with JSU, students are now able to take the university’s English 101 and 102 courses at the high school with Christy Ader, a teacher at the high school and now also an adjunct professor for JSU. The classes are dual-enrollment, meaning the students receive both high school and college credit, said Principal Valrie Bain. Students had already been able to attend classes at Gadsden State Community College during their high school day, but that program requires students to travel to the college campus, Bain said.

Bain, who was assistant principal at Oxford High School before coming to Cleburne County, said she was familiar with JSU’s program from her former position and wanted to offer it to her students here. She approached Ader last school year about teaching for the program. Ader completed 18 hours of graduate level English credits to qualify to become an adjunct professor for JSU over the spring and summer semesters, Bain said.

Ader said she jumped at the chance.

“It was something that I’ve wanted to do for years,” Ader said.

Bain said the class was added just two weeks before school started.

Next year, it will be easier for students who won’t have to rush through the process of applying to JSU and enrolling in the course, she said. The school also hopes to add speech to the dual-enrollment course options next school year, Bain said.

Ader is teaching a combined class with advanced placement and dual-enrollment students. There are about 20 students in the dual-enrollment class, she said. All are getting scholarships, she said.

Alice Abernathy, who handles the program at JSU, said the university has been doing dual-enrollment classes with high schools in Clay, Cherokee and Calhoun counties and is glad to add Cleburne to the list. There are 14 high schools, three of them private schools, taking advantage of the program, Abernathy said.

This year, the university won a $12 million grant through Collaborative Regional Education that allows it to award up to 500 scholarships, covering the cost of the class, each fall semester for three years, she said.

“That’s one of the hooks to it,” Abernathy said. “The scholarship covers one three-hour class.”

Students can take the course, earn college credit and it doesn’t cost them a thing, she said.

Osiel Olguin, 17, one of the students in the Cleburne County class, said that free tuition is one of the program’s attractions.

“They’re giving away free classes,” Olguin said. “I’ll take ’em.”

This first year, JSU almost hit the 500 scholarship limit, Abernathy said. But the dual-enrollment program is continuing to grow and next fall, she expects more applications for the scholarships.

The grant specifies the scholarships are to be handed out in the fall. For now, there is no scholarship money available for spring semester courses, she said.

Abernathy said the university has offered dual-enrollment classes to high school students for more than a decade. Although JSU has not collected data on its dual-enrolled students, she said, studies have shown that students participating in dual-enrollment have a better chance of graduating high school and continuing on to college.

Ader said the classes are helpful to students preparing for college. Because the high school classes start earlier than the university classes, high schoolers have more time to get through the material while still getting them a taste of the rigor they will face at a university.

“It’s almost like a training class for college,” Ader said.

In addition, unlike AP classes that only award college credit based on a final test, students in the dual-enrollment class receive the college credit as long as they earn at least a C, Ader said.

Mollie Owens, 17, a senior at Cleburne County High who is enrolled in the class, said she has taken three AP classes but didn’t score high enough on the final tests to get college credit. She took this class to get at least a few core college courses out of the way.

“You’re closer to working on your major,” she said.

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