South Dakota students now have a way to reduce the cost of their college education while they're still in high school.
Dual credit classes have been around for a while, but this year the legislature is funding the program and students who qualify can take classes for just $40 a credit hour.
However, getting the word out about the program has been tough and many more students could be taking advantage of it this fall.
Blair Gilkyson just wrapped up her first year at the University of Nebraska. This Vermillion graduate went into college with ten credits under her belt.
"I went in almost a semester ahead and now I'm taking online classes, so I'm about a year ahead now," Gilkyson said.
Gilkyson saved thousands of dollars in tuition costs by taking college classes through dual credit. While her classes were privately sponsored, this year the South Dakota legislature has allocated $300,000 for students to take entry level courses at all public universities and technical institutes.
"And if we can help that student earn 12 credits in the junior and senior year and be able to apply those and save almost $3,000; I don't see how that isn't a good thing for students," Aslesen said.
Travis Aslesen is the principal at Elk Point-Jefferson. His school is offering three courses that students can take for both college credit and graduation requirements. He thinks the program will help high schools stretched thin on resources.
"This is a great opportunity to allow that 20 or 30 percent of your senior class who are ready and let USD or SDSU or Dakota State educate them--and then spend that time on those students who need extra help so they can qualify to have that experience in college," Aslesen said.
The University of South Dakota is assigning an advisor to each student in dual credit classes and will hold an orientation session for parents and students.
"The risk is, if you don't do well at this, then you fail a high school course and you fail a college course," Michael Card of USD said.
There are about 150 students enrolled for classes with USD for the dual credit program; however, none of those students are from Sioux Falls public schools. But USD says there is still time for students to enroll for dual credit.
"You don't have to worry about empty credits, these are all going to count for graduation--the low price--I don't see why more aren't involved, other than we were just slow in rolling it out based on the legislative session--getting the details worked out," Card said.
There are only 12 students enrolled for dual credit classes at University Center in Sioux Falls for the fall. Southeast Tech has 13 students in the new dual credit program. In all nearly 370 students statewide are signed up. Those who've taken advantage of dual credit, encourage anyone who qualifies to take courses.
"For the people that are planning on going on to a four year or two year school; for the ones that are looking to challenge themselves a little harder, then it's the best thing you could possibly do for the money," Student Seth Miller said.
Seth Miller just graduated from Vermillion High School and took a college-level Intro to Business course. He says it helped confirm his chosen field of study.
"At least I got to test the water to see if I liked it before I had to spend ten times more to take the class in college," Miller said.
These students say the courses helped prepare them for what to expect once they were enrolled in college full-time.
Students interested in dual credit for this fall should contact their guidance counselor or school principal as soon as possible. Courses are available through all six state schools and four technical institutes.