Earning a high school diploma while working toward an associate degree may be an uncommon path for most students. But for Sam Rennich, it’s an achievable goal – thanks to Howard Community College and the Howard County Public School System’s JumpStart program.
Rennich started taking dual enrollment classes, counting for both high school and college credits, as a freshman at River Hill High School. While the courses were taught at the college level, they were led by high school teachers and attended by peers at the school, making it a comfortable and convenient atmosphere for getting acclimated to both high school and college experiences.
“As a freshman, you’re still getting used to being in high school, so being able to stay in a high school environment while taking a college class with added rigor wasn’t as stressful as it would be to go to a college campus,” Rennich says.
Over his first two years in high school, Rennich took HCC courses in Spanish, precalculus, and calculus, aiming to cover general education requirements that could transfer to a four-year university. While Rennich also has taken Advanced Placement courses through his high school, the dual enrollment program provides more chances to explore new subjects, with a full catalog of college courses from which to choose.
Now, as a junior, he is taking more specialized courses in computer science and economics as he plans to pursue a bachelor’s degree in both areas after high school.
“My parents and I decided to pursue dual enrollment because we knew I was going to have more opportunities,” he says. “You get more options for course selections through JumpStart. I’ve been able to take several courses through HCC that I would never have had the ability to take otherwise.”
In computer science, for example, there are a few offerings at his high school. But at HCC, “the selection of computer science courses is probably 10 times greater. If you want to specialize in a specific language or aspect of computer science, you can pick and choose what you want to do rather than a more generic core class—and that goes for any field,” he says.
The JumpStart program also supports the success of participating students by offering frequent “HCC Hour” sessions for students to meet with counselors, ask questions, and seek advice about the program.
Because of his experience with dual enrollment, Rennich is on track to earn an associate degree at the same time as his high school diploma. “It really is a jump start on experiencing and knowing what it’s going to be like in college,” he says. “It feels easier to apply to college knowing that I’ll have a better chance of being successful—because I know what to expect.”
Earning college credits while in high school also helps save on higher education costs. “To get college credit, we are paying half of HCC’s tuition, which is already affordable,” Rennich says. “It may seem like a lot compared to high school, but it’s not a whole lot more than AP test fees, and it’s a lot less than the cost of a four-year university course—and you are getting full-blown college credit.”
The program is an extremely valuable opportunity for high school students, according to Rennich. “I urge everyone to give it a try. It helps save money, save time, and gives you more experience in college courses and their rigor.”