Plenty of Jefferson City area students take a load of college credits with them when they graduate high school, and with recent legislative changes, those credits may become even more accessible to students.
The News Tribune reached out to area schools to help compare and contrast dual credit/dual enrollment and advanced placement courses, some of the main ways to earn that credit. Jefferson City, Blair Oaks and Russellville schools responded for this story.
Advanced Placement Courses are college-level courses that students can take in high school. There are no formal requirements or professional development courses for AP teachers, except for Seminar and Research courses, which require a summer workshop and online training, according to the College Board website. Teachers must cover topics that will prepare a student for their AP exam at the end of the course, which is scored on a 1 to 5 scale, with 5 being the highest score.
Dual credit courses, on the other hand, are college courses taught in a high school classroom by teachers certified to teach dual credit. Students can earn high school and college credit simultaneously. Dual enrollment classes are similar but are taught by college professors.
Dual credit instructors must be approved as an adjunct professor by the college that the high school is partnering with and must have at least one level of education greater than the level at which they teach according to the Coordinating Board for Higher Education.
Both courses offer students the benefits of earning college credit before graduating high school. That can mean big savings in the long run because of shorter stints in college.
Some local schools offer up to 30-40 credit hours of dual credit/dual enrollment credit that students could bring into high school, the equivalent of a year -- or more -- of classes.
The College Board website contains research that shows that students who take AP courses are more likely to finish their degree on time, which can mean they save money on a fifth year of tuition.
AP and dual credit/dual enrollment courses can also boost students' GPAs if they are graded on a weighted scale, which many high schools offer.
At Cole County R-1 in Russellville, there is a cap to weighted credit.
"We have a maximum amount of courses that can be counted towards the weighting of a GPA. This prevents a student from have an unfair advantage for those who cannot afford dual credit," Superintendent Perry Gorrell said. The maximum to count in weighting GPA is five credits of weighted courses.
"I think both are good options, and it is not that one is necessarily better than the other," said Jill Shanley, a school counselor at Blair Oaks High School.
However, there are factors that play into students favoring one or the other.
"One factor that I think our students see as an advantage of dual credit over AP is that their ability to earn college credit in dual credit classes is based on the work they do in those classes throughout the semester," she said. "As long as students earn a C or above in dual credit classes, that credit will transfer to the school they plan to attend after high school. With AP classes, students must score a 3 or above on the AP test at the end of the course to earn college credit. That can be intimidating for students, especially students who struggle with anxiety surrounding big tests."
Deputy Superintendent of JC Schools Bryan McGraw said the choice between AP and dual credit depends on the student, their plans after graduation and their financial situation.
"If a student is planning to attend a college in the state of Missouri that is part of the Core 42, they will receive college credit for the dual credit courses they pass. If a school is not a part of the Core 42, the course will likely transfer as an elective credit," he said.
"Certain colleges/universities may or may not accept credits earned through either system, and neither is universally accepted by all schools. It is best for a student and their parent/guardians to research institutions carefully to be as informed as they can about which courses and exams are accepted," he said.
In the past, the AP test scores colleges would accept varied based on course and school.
This legislative session, Rep. Chris Brown, R-Kansas City, sponsored legislation that would standardize the scores.
"It seems very arbitrary, it seems very random, and it's very hard to explain to a parent whose student worked very, very hard for an entire year, and they get a three, which is an exceedingly good grade on an AP test, why they're not getting college credit," Brown told the House Committee on Higher Education at a hearing in February.
All that could change if Gov. Mike Parson signs SB 681 or SB 718, which contain Brown's provision that would require all post-secondary institutions that offer freshman-level classes to accept a 3 or higher for credit on AP exams.
It faced initial opposition from some colleges, including the UM System, that felt a 3 was not necessarily a high enough score if the class was in a student's major. However, by the time the bill made its way from the House to the Senate, those schools had hopped on board.
There have also been changes that have made dual credit more accessible.
This year, the Missouri Department of Higher Education and Workforce Development began a Dual Credit/Dual Enrollment Scholarship that could help cover part of the tuition and fees for high school students.
"Our students and families have taken advantage of that this spring and many have received reimbursement for a large portion of what they paid for their spring dual credit classes," Shanley said.
The costs for AP exams is $96 per exam, according to the College Board, and eligible students can get $34 off that price.
The cost for dual credit/dual enrollment varies based on school.
Blair Oaks partners with Central Methodist University and State Technical College of Missouri. CMU classes cost $80 per credit hour, and State Tech classes cost $88. CMU offers 6 credit hours of free dual credit per year for students on free and reduced lunch.
At Russellville, that cost is $80 per credit hour.
JC Schools offers dual credit through Lincoln University and Drury University for $75 per credit hour for three- and five-credit hour classes.
There is a "huge difference" between what a student pays in high school vs. what they may pay to take the same course in college, Shanley said.
While dual credit is around $80 per credit hour, many colleges may charge several hundred dollars per credit hour, she said.
At the University of Missouri, for instance, the cost for resident tuition per credit hour is $321.30 per credit hour, according to its website.
At Blair Oaks, dual credit/dual enrollment is more prolific than AP. Shanley explains this is because Blair Oaks is a smaller district, and the format of dual credit/dual enrollment courses allows it more leeway.
Blair Oaks offers classes via Central Methodist University and State Technical College of Missouri. College professors teach the high school students over zoom or at the high school.
"This is a real benefit for us for a couple of reasons. First, it allows us to offer additional classes while keeping our teachers free to teach our Blair Oaks classes, which increases the amount of classes we can offer to students without increasing the cost to the district. Second, it allows our students to get a taste of what it is like to be in a college class taught by a college professor," Shanley said.
"We offer one AP class (AP Chemistry) which is taught by one of our teachers, and it is a great class. But her teaching two sections of AP Chem means she is only available to teach four sections of other science classes to our students," she said.
Blair Oaks offers 13 dual credit courses, potentially 42 college credit hours.
More than 98 juniors and seniors at Blair Oaks took at least one dual credit class this year, though many took multiple, and 38 students took AP Chemistry. Shanley said those numbers have been steady over the past five years.
In Russellville at Cole County R-1 School District, dual credit is all that's offered. Superintendent Perry Gorrell said students can earn more than 30 hours of college credit.
At Jefferson City, the district decided to pay for students' AP exams instead of having the students pay for their own exams, which increased those courses' popularity "dramatically," McGraw said, tripling the number of students who took the exams. Students often have a choice whether to take a course as AP or dual credit, he said.
In total, Jefferson City Schools offered 26 AP courses this year and plans to add two more next year. It also offered 18 dual credit classes at Jefferson City High School and 10 at Capital City High School.
At CCHS, there were 296 AP exams taken and there were 252 dual credit class registrations, while JCHS had 172 AP exams taken and 257 dual credit class registrations this year.