Montana Gov. Steve Bullock believes in the effort underway to give high school students an opportunity to take courses where they not only meet graduation requirements but also earn college credit.
On Tuesday, Bullock stopped in at Hellgate High School to hear how the dual-credit program was going and what could be done to improve it.
The listening session included Missoula County Public Schools’ top administrators, several members of the board of trustees, and a handful of parents and students.
Bullock said he supports the program for two reasons. One, it gives students who might not think they are college material a chance to try a class with little risk and a lot of support. Two, it jump-starts a college-bound student by helping get some credits out of the way at a greatly reduced rate.
It costs about $50 per credit to take a dual-credit class – about $150 for a three-credit course and $200 for a four-credit course.
Still, Bullock heard from two different students that while the cost of the program is greatly reduced, $50 per credit-hour is out of reach for many families.
Washington state has solved that challenge by paying nearly three-fourths of the cost for its students who take dual-enrollment courses, explained Mark Thane, MCPS regional director.
Ian Frank, a Hellgate senior, said he is taking a dual-credit math class because he knows he doesn’t want to take any math in college and wants to get that requirement out of the way.
Frank’s comment prompted a smile from the governor, who admitted he, too, didn’t embrace math when he was in high school, and quipped: “You sound just like me when I was your age.”
Other audience members suggested growing the program to include introductory-level classes that lead toward completion of certificate programs. Some students would like to take the courses, but get confounded by the enrollment process, which has set deadlines defined by the university system.
By and large, MCPS has data showing the dual-credit offerings are successful, Thane said.
In the fall of 2012, MCPS had 266 students taking dual-credit classes. This fall, the number climbed to 378, marking a 42 percent increase in student enrollment.
Most of the students are taking Missoula College courses, which cover a wide variety of topics, everything from math to writing to computer programming.
What makes Thane particular pleased is another fact.
“Last year, of the 266 students taking dual-credit courses, 242 of them earned grades of an A or B,” he said. “That is exciting to me.”
MCPS Superintendent Alex Apostle said the district is working hard to create more opportunities for students.
It is a priority, he said, that “we make it easy for students who want to earn dual credit. There should be a clear pathway for them.”