Brandy Baker, assistant superintendent of School Support for Hutto ISD, said the district is moving forward on a program allowing Hutto High School students to earn an associate degree while simultaneously earning a high school diploma.
The program begins in the 2016-17 school year and replaces the district’s Legacy Early College High School program—a dual-credit partnership with Temple College and Taylor ISD—which district officials started phasing out in 2012.
“Our students caught a bus in Hutto and actually attended school in Taylor. We did that for several years and then decided that partnership needed to go in a different direction,” Baker said.
HISD superintendent Doug Killian said he is optimistic about the district’s ability to once again offer college options to students.
“It’s a great opportunity for our students who want to get a jump-start on college, and it’s another example of Hutto ISD’s innovation and our desire to provide more programs for our students,” Killian said.
Baker said the program is available for incoming ninth- and 10th-grade students who successfully pass the Texas Success Initiative exam, or TSI, which helps determine college readiness.
She said the TSI is required only for students who want to take dual credit and college level courses.
The program will acclimate students to learning in a college environment, and classes will be held at the East Williamson County Higher Education Center in Hutto. All the courses will be led by Temple College instructors.
“That’s why we’re moving in this direction,” Baker said. “Every student in Hutto ISD can benefit from an associate degree program.”
She said advantages of the program include the ability to create more educational opportunities for HISD students and produce globally competitive graduates.
“There are a lot of students who are ready to take college-level courses. Why do they have to wait until after high school to do that? If they demonstrate they have the aptitude to do it, why not give them the opportunity to earn credit toward a college degree while they finish high school?” Baker said.
HISD students will be eligible for an initial priority enrollment period, after which general enrollment begins. Baker said general enrollment introduces the possibility of HISD students interacting with traditional post-graduate learners.
Baker said one disadvantage of the program is asking teenagers to decide on a career path at an earlier age.
“We’re asking them to basically assess realistic future goals. For example: ‘What do you want to do in four years, because we want to put you on the right path of course selection?’ That’s hard to do when you’re asking a 14- or 15-year-old to do a self-assessment—it’s a challenge,” she said.
Baker said dual credit and associate degree courses are very similar, but the big difference is with the associate degree plan, the students will enter the dual credit track earlier so they can get through the 60 hours, and the dual credit cap of two courses per semester is removed.
Baker said Advanced Placement, or AP, courses are taught in the traditional high school setting by high school teachers. An exam is required and must be passed upon completion of the course in order for the student to receive credit.
The district plans to maintain the same student-to-district, cost-sharing ratio as what is currently assessed in the dual-credit program.
“We’re going to work within our budget, but we have a pretty rigorous budget for college and career programming. The student pays $25 per [three hour credit] class, and the district will pay $164 for the same class, right now, but tuition may go up,” Baker said. “[Dual credit and associate degree courses] will cost us the same amount.”
Baker said there is a significant cost savings for families who find rising tuition rates difficult to afford.
“It helps reduce the burden because parents are able to curb some of those costs of higher education while their [student is] in high school,” she said. “Tuition rates continue to rise to the point where it’s unattainable for some families; this allows college to be a reality.”
Baker said the district must limit the number of openings in the program between 15 to 20 students so it remains affordable for the district.
“We will put together a committee of key stakeholders who will set the application criteria for admission into the program, and we’ve started a little bit of that work already. The group includes high school, college, community and district representatives,” Baker said. “The application process will be on a points-based system—students will get certain points for specific criteria that they meet.”