To ease the transition to college, some students take a fifth year of high school

Programs allow students to earn college credit, associate degree at no cost

Taking a fifth year of high school allows some teenagers to earn college credits or associate degrees at a significantly reduced price, Alexandra Pannoni reports for U.S. News & World Report.

Generally, students taking a 13th year of secondary school are in public "early college high schools," which offer college and high school curriculum and are typically near or even on college campuses, says Elisabeth Barnett, a Columbia University Teachers College expert on the transition to higher education.

Usually students must apply to or earn through a lottery a spot at such a school, Barnett says, and the programs are typically aimed at underserved and underrepresented populations. 

For example, fifth-year student Morgan Whitman attends Duplin Early College High School in North Carolina and takes all of her classes at the community college on the same campus as her high school. She checks in with her high school teachers occasionally and attends a weekly college-going process seminar. Upon graduation this year, she will have earned an associate degree and high school diploma—at no personal cost.

Free tuition may not be enough to improve access to degrees

The setup works in traditional public high schools as well, according to Pannoni. In Oregon, multiple high schools permit students to stay for a fifth year and receive funding to attend one year of community college—about $6,500 per student for three terms of tuition and fees, books, and an advisor. And in Dallas, a similar program has run for eight years.

The additional support aims to improve student retention and success. In Dallas, about three-fourths of the program's enrollees complete a full year of community college credits, according to the Oregonian's Betsey Hammond.

"It's different from your normal high school experience and that's good," Whitman says (Pannoni, U.S. News & World Report, 5/4; Hammond, Oregonian, 2/6/2014).

The takeaway: Students who take a "13th" year of high school are able to earn significant amounts of college credit—or even an associate degree before graduation, reports Alexandra Pannoni for U.S. News & World Report.

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