SIKESTON -- Mark Freed attends the Sikeston Area Higher Education Center three mornings a week to take two classes. Then, the senior at Scott County Central returns to the high school campus for his other classes.
Freed is one of many area high school students who is jump starting his college education by participating in dual enrollment classes. If everything goes according to plan, he will graduate high school with 12 hours under his belt.
"It kind of gives you a taste of the college life so you know what to expect when you take your education to the next level," Freed said. "There are seven of us from here (who take the courses at SAHEC) and we all enjoy it."
Several area schools allow junior and senior students to take classes at the satellite center, which are taught by a university instructor but consist of only high school students. Others offer college courses on site, with faculty trained by area colleges, or Web courses through Three Rivers Community College and Southeast to their students.
"They really learn what it's like taking a college course," said Kim Thornbrough, senior counselor at Sikeston Senior High. There, seniors who participate in dual enrollment typically graduate having completed between nine and 12 credit hours.
In most instances, the credits transfer to the college the student chooses to attend. "It may not transfer as that class, but an elective credit," said Michelle Riley, the counselor's secretary at Sikeston Senior High School. Students can also contact their prospective college's admissions office or look to its Web site to see how the course will transfer.
Completing some of those core classes while still in high school allows students to graduate from college in less time, or simply take a lighter load during some semesters.
"For those who are really focused on their career, this gets them a little bit closer to taking courses that are related to their major earlier in their college career," said Rhonda Ratledge, counselor at Kelly High School.
"They would be considered general education required courses just about anywhere," pointed out Jerry Brehmer, counselor at Scott Central High School.
There have been some students there who take primarily or only college courses in their senior year -- a combination of the four taught on campus and online courses, Ratledge continued. "It takes dedication to do that," she said.
In fact, one student graduated with 60 credit hours. He graduated with his bachelor's degree two years later and is now enrolled at Logan University to become a chiropractor.
At Charleston High School, a student recently graduated with more than 40 college hours. "If they participate in the off-campus program for two years, they'll have 24 hours," said Lisa Harris, high school counselor. "Plus thy have the option of taking nine hours a year on campus and online classes on top of that their senior year."
Although she encourages students to participate in dual enrollment, she also works to make sure they don't overwhelm themselves. "We work very closely with the students and we make sure that they even out the load with what they're taking here," she said. She dubbed the college courses as "rigorous, demanding and challenging."
Because of that, guidelines are set as to who can take the courses. According to Brehmer, a student needs the recommendation of the high school principal or other designee, a minimum grade point average of 3.0 on a 4.0 scale, and meet the same requirements as college students in some areas such as English and math, determined by their ACT or other test scores.
Students who take the courses off-campus three days a week get the other two mornings a week as time to work on their assignments at school. And at Charleston, the students also get some ACT prep during that time, Harris said.
The courses also provide a financial break, since the classes are less expensive, with one school reporting a 45 percent discount on the price per credit hour.
"It is a bargain price, unless a student has a scholarship that pays their tuition, which happens occasionally," Brehmer said.
Not only that, it gives the students a taste of college life a little early, instead of all at once.
"They don't spoon feed you the information like high school teachers do," Freed said. "You have to go out and find the information for yourself."
Another change he noted was that college instructors don't remind students when assignments are due, unlike high school teachers. "You have to be very organized."