Working Smarter, Not Harder
More students are getting ahead and saving on tuition when they take advantage of concurrent college credit
By Dwain Hebda
When the Greenbrier High School Class of 2019 walked the stage at graduation, several members of the class received more than their high school diplomas. Thanks to the school’s concurrent credit program through the University of Arkansas-Little Rock, a cohort of students also got a major head start on their future.
“Greenbrier High School, which we’ve partnered with for a number of years, is one of our major success stories,” said Lisa Davis, director of distributed learning and career center who administers the UA Little Rock concurrent program among 13 Central Arkansas high schools.
Concurrent Credit Institutions
Arkansas Northeastern College, Blytheville
Arkansas State University, Beebe
Arkansas State University, Jonesboro
Arkansas State University, Mountain Home
Arkansas State University, Newport
Arkansas Tech University, Russellville
Black River Technical College, Pocahontas
College of the Ouachitas, Malvern
University of Arkansas-Cossatot
Community College, De Queen
East Arkansas Community College, Forrest City
Henderson State University, Arkadelphia
National Park College, Hot Springs
North Arkansas College, Harrison
Community College, Bentonville
Ozarka College, Melbourne
Phillips Community College of the
University of Arkansas, Helena
Southern Arkansas University-Tech, Camden
University of Arkansas
Community College at Batesville
University of Arkansas
Community College at Hope
University of Arkansas Rich Mountain
Community College, Mena
John Brown University, Siloam Springs
Southern Arkansas University, Magnolia
University of Arkansas at Fort Smith
University of Arkansas at Little Rock
University of Arkansas at Monticello
University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff
University of Central Arkansas, Conway
Source: Arkansas Department of Higher Education (adhe.edu)
“Greenbrier has invested in enough teachers and offered enough courses to their student body that this year we had 30 Greenbrier High School seniors graduate with an Associate of Arts degree in General Studies.”
Concurrent college credit allows students to complete college coursework at little to virtually no cost while still in high school. This not only represents less out-of-pocket expense up front, but also cuts down on the time the student spends to finish their four-year degree. Or, they can take their two-year associate’s degree and head straight into the working world without incurring any additional debt at all.
“The classes that they’re getting in high school are essentially classes that they have to take in college anyway,” said Pat Bilbrey, mathematics teacher and concurrent credit coordinator at Little Rock’s Parkview High School. “My students take it because they can get things like college algebra and college trig out of the way.”
Such programs are not new—Parkview has offered it for more than 12 years and UALR more than 20—but in the current age of skyrocketing college costs, concurrent credit is particularly relevant as a sensible alternative to crushing amounts of student loan debt.
Consider, the 30 Greenbrier student each amassed 60 hours of coursework en route to their Associate’s degrees. For illustration purposes, let’s say each course is worth three credit hours which equals 20 courses to be completed. At a cost of $100 per course, each Associate’s degree cost $2,000.
Per UALR.edu, those same 60 hours earned during freshman and sophomore year of college would cost $19,057.20 or $9,528.60 per year in tuition and fees, not to mention the additional expense of counting room, board and other costs. Taking those 60 hours online runs you $280 per credit hour, per ualr.edu, or a total of $16,800. Even when allowing for scholarships, it’s a no-brainer to see the better value.
And in some programs, the cost scenario is even more attention-grabbing. Arkansas Tech University in Russellville has offered concurrent credit for 20 years and has partnerships with 18 high schools. University officials report that in 2018-19 alone, concurrent students earned college credit worth more than $5 million in tuition and fees and didn’t pay a dime.
“Through cost-sharing agreements with the high school partners, many Arkansas high school students can earn college credit from ATU without incurring any personal tuition or fee expenses,” said Sam Strasner, director of university relations.
"The heart of this program is access. ATU seeks for any eligible student in Arkansas who wants to earn college credit to be able to do so by removing existing barriers. ATU does not believe that a student’s financial situation, school district or geographic location in the state should be a barrier to an opportunity to better prepare for college while saving money.”
Unlike college correspondence courses of the past, concurrent classes are approved courses within the high school’s existing curriculum. Students must be at least in ninth grade and must be accepted to the partner college or university, but that’s about the extent of eligibility requirements.
Concurrent courses also provide advantages over Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate programs in that coursework reflected on a college transcript is far more likely to be accepted via transfer. And unlike AP or IB programs, students don’t need a minimum score to “test out” of the courses they complete.
“The problem with some of the AP courses, as we know from test scores, is not everyone is successful on a one-time test,” Parkview's Bilbrey said. “However, those same students are often very successful in the classroom throughout the year. This program gives them credit for that work.”
Most significantly, concurrent college credit programs provide students an early taste of higher-level coursework, and statistics have shown that introduction helps them do better in future college classes. That, said Strasner, is a particularly important payoff.
“We want to give college-bound students a cost-effective jumpstart on college while also instilling confidence in first-generation students or students who are undecided about college,” Strasner said. “We want to show them they have the ability to be successful and hopefully remove some of the fear of the unknown.”