For many high school students, participating in college-level dual credit courses is the start of something big.

Dual credit courses are taught at high schools, by approved high school teachers, and allow high school students to earn college credit at their high school campus.

The courses give high school students a jumpstart on earning a college certificate, an associate’s, or a bachelor’s degree. Klamath Community College (KCC) currently offers 87 dual credit courses in 31 high schools in Southern Oregon and Northern California. KCC’s dual credit courses are free to students who reside in Oregon.

“When courses are offered as dual credit, I think students sometimes feel a sense of pride or that this could be a building block for them,” said Benji Henslee, a dual credit business instructor at Mazama High School. “There is a greater sense opportunity.”

Dual credit 

Dual credit courses are structured similar to high school courses, with one notable — and sometimes intimidating — difference: time. 

Henslee said a high school business class may stretch out as long as 18 weeks. College courses must be completed in 10 weeks.

Shelley Spurgeon, a chemistry and environmental science teacher at North Lake School District, explained that although outcomes for high school and college courses are similar, her college courses are at a rapid-fire pace, as well.

“I have my time budgeted down to the last day,” Spurgeon said.

The rigor of a college-level course keeps her students much busier, too.

“If they don’t understand the work, they’ll come in before school or during my prep periods — they are in my class all the time,” Spurgeon said.

Spurgeon taught the same environmental science course two years ago as an honors class, and the students were not nearly as engaged because it’s just “high school.”

“Now they take it much more seriously,” Spurgeon said.

Better prepared 

One major benefit of dual credit options is that they provide students in rural areas access to college credits that they might not otherwise have, according to KCC K-12 Support Coordinator Kelly Kline.

Social studies instructor Rick Stupak said out of a senior class of 45 students at Lakeview High School, more than 25 signed up this semester for his dual credit Intro to Political Science course.

He said this political science course is more writing intensive and requires more complex studying than a high school course at his school.

Dual credit courses are terrific opportunity for students to learn good study skills and organization, he added.

“If you’re taking dual credit, the expectation is that your work is going to be college level. Some students have struggled with those expectations and they slowly start to figure it out; some of them excel and have been pleased with what they’ve done,” he said.

“It’s a different world than high school,” he added.

According to KCC Institutional Researcher Bill Jennings, dual credit courses and other options for high school students to earn college credit are making a notable difference in the student body at KCC. More kids are coming to KCC more prepared, he said.

“We have more students right out of high school enrolled than ever before. And those students are more prepared for college-level classes,” Jennings said.

Kline said she sees “a lot of impressive grades” coming from high schools that are partnered with KCC.

“A lot more students are taking advantage of KCC supports, such as tutoring and academic counseling, and are taking classes with the intention of being successful,” she said. 

Return on investment

Spurgeon has a theory that students who may not have wanted to sign up for certain classes, such as chemistry, their senior year, end up doing so because they have an option to get more than high school credit.

“I think they may be looking at their future and saying, ‘Hey, I can get ahead this way,’” she said. “I think it has encouraged my students. I have a lot higher enrollment in environmental science.”

Henslee is quick to point out to students that just because a class is offered as dual credit, doesn’t mean they have to sign up for it and doesn’t mean they should sign up for it.

She said students considering a dual credit course need to ask themselves two basic questions: Should I take this class for dual credit? And if so, why or why not?

The answers to those two questions will depend on things like whether the student plans to attend a community college or university, if the course will transfer to a specific degree, whether the student qualifies for Oregon Promise, and how the course may impact money later available through FAFSA.

KCC’s dual credit courses are open to high school students age 16 and older. Courses may be available to students less than 16 years of age on a case-by-case basis.

Kline encourages anyone interested in earning college credit while in high school or curious about the benefits of dual credit to meet with a high school counselor.

“It’s an opportunity for students to access higher education and to find a course or career of interest,” Kline said. “Students that are a good match for dual credit offerings could be well on their way to completing a college program before they finish high school.