General Education

What Are Dual-Credit Classes? College Courses at a Low Cost

What Are Dual-Credit Classes? College Courses at a Low Cost
Image from Unsplash
Bretton M. DeLaria profile
Bretton M. DeLaria May 22, 2015

High school dual-credit courses give you a head start on college work. Find out what dual-credit programs are, how to enroll, and what to look for.

Article continues here

Starting college can be overwhelming. What if I told you, however, that there is a way to better prepare?

Read on to understand how dual-credit programs can help you on the way to college and beyond. Here is everything you need to know to get a jumpstart on college.

What Is a Dual-Credit Program?

The National Alliance for Concurrent Enrollment Partnerships defines the term as “the opportunity for high school students to take college credit–bearing courses taught by college-approved high school teachers.”

Let me break this definition down so you can better understand what dual-credit programs entail. Throughout my explanation, I will be using Saint Louis University’s 1818 Advanced College Credit Program offered by (SLU 1818 ACC) to help explain what dual credit means.

Dual credit means dual credit.

It may seem obvious, but it’s worth mentioning: In dual-credit programs, you earn credit that goes toward your high school requirements; and at the same time, you also earn college credit. So, with SLU 1818 ACC, the courses you take help you graduate from high school and count as college courses that will appear on your university transcript once you begin your undergraduate studies.

A class may be taught in a high school, but it’s a college course.

The university in a dual-credit program reviews and approves high school instructors to teach college syllabi in their classrooms. If you were to take a SLU 1818 ACC course, for instance, your high school teacher would have already been vetted by Saint Louis University, which would have granted your instructor permission to teach the same course that college students would take on the SLU campus. SLU 1818 ACC students are taught a SLU syllabus and are given access to the university’s research-intensive library resources.

It’s not pre-college…it is college.

Dual-credit courses are not pre-college or preparatory courses — they are college-level courses that are just as rigorous as those offered on a university campus. SLU 1818 ACC students take the same assessments as Saint Louis University students, and they are accordingly required to follow the same academic policies.

There is no single exam or extra test.

Dual credit classes aren’t evaluated on a summative scale through a comprehensive examination. One of the major hallmarks of dual credit is that, upon completing the same assignments and assessments as a university student, you are given college credit. There’s no extra test to qualify for credit, as there is for AP courses; instead, you are experiencing the same SLU class that student take on campus and earning actual SLU college credit.

The credit is usually transferable.

Most dual-credit courses can be transferred either to the program’s host university or to other universities nationally.

It’s a college course, but it’s cheap.

I’ve said it before, but it’s worth repeating…a dual-credit course means real college courses! You do, however, avoid the sticker price of a college course. For example, a Saint Louis University undergraduate course costs $1,350. Comparatively, SLU 1818 ACC only charges $65 per credit hour. That’s a 95 percent savings per credit hour! You can get a SLU education without the SLU cost.

What Are the Benefits of Dual-Credit Courses?

You can take challenging classes.

Dual-credit courses are ideal for students who are looking for new kinds of intellectual stimulation, and who are eager to challenge themselves academically. In a dual-credit course, you will not only be pushed to explore advanced content, but you’ll also experience new types of assignments.

You are better prepared for college.

Dual-credit courses will enable you to start college knowing what to expect in terms of academics. As a first-year student, you will likely feel more confident as you take first-semester courses, since you’ll have already experienced what it is like to take a college class. Additionally, students who participate in dual-credit programs learn about the administrative processes of taking college courses. You will be able to navigate registration, enrollment, and payments before you set foot on campus.

You are granted access to university resources.

Dual-credit programs give students exposure to campus resources and university faculty. There are also dedicated staff members who are happy to help students.

You can save money.

With the reduced tuition rate, students can knock out a chunk of their future requirements or electives for a fraction of the cost. While a dual-credit program may not reduce the amount of time it takes to graduate, it can allow you to take fewer credit-hours per semester and give you time to take advantage of opportunities like study abroad, which may not otherwise have fit into your schedule.

You can transfer the credit to any college.

If you take a university course, you’ll emerge with a university transcript, which can be accepted at several institutions. You should talk with an academic adviser about whether a specific college accepts dual credit, and how it applies toward your (current and future) academic work.

Who Can Participate?

Dual-credit course are wonderful learning opportunities for high school students, but there are some limits on who can participate. Most states have rules regarding how dual credit can be delivered in the host state to ensure that course rigor is adequately matched with student capabilities.

Most dual-credit programs are limited to juniors and seniors in high school, and typically students must maintain a certain cumulative GPA — usually between 2.5 and 3.0. Since a college course is more challenging than a high school course, the school, university, and government want to ensure that they set students up for success.

The university that is partnered with your high school should be following state guidelines and will be able to tell you more about student eligibility criteria in your state.

What Are Challenges Students May Encounter When Taking Dual-Credit Courses?

While there are many benefits to taking dual-credit courses, it’s important to ensure you can get the most out of your programs. You should research whether you will be able to transfer the credits you receive, and how the credits can be applied in your undergraduate career. You should also think about whether you have the time, energy, stamina, and desire to take on college-level work while you’re still in high school.

How Do You Find a Good Partner?

Dual-credit programs require a partnership between a high school and university to deliver courses. It also not unusual for a high school to partner with various universities in different geographic areas. Here are key tips for finding a good dual-credit program:

Seek programs with national membership.

Is the program you are considering a member of the National Alliance for Concurrent Enrollment Partnerships (NACEP)? NACEP is the sole and premier dual-credit accreditor and national association. NACEP ensures that programs are authentic and adhere to the highest of standards set forth for dual credit. A member partner will be active and model its program on NACEP’s standards or be accredited through NACEP.

Look for partners that provide more than classes.

A good program will offer students and families lots of ways to get in touch with a university if they need guidance. It will also provide students with access to university resources so they can get the most out of their courses.

Research a program’s transferability.

A good dual-credit program will have courses that transfer beyond the host university to other colleges. NACEP membership typically helps increase transferability.

Be sure a partner is good at communicating.

Does the program you’re considering communicate with everyone involved in the dual-credit process on a regular basis? Does it provide a way for students and teachers to contact the host university if they need assistance? Test the program out by seeing what your experience is like when you try to get in touch to ask questions.

Look into the program’s past.

How long has the program been around? How many courses/credit hours does it offer? What is the program’s record with state compliance and national standards? A program with a good track record is more likely to give you a positive experience.

Dual credit programs offer a wonderful opportunity for high school students to get an early start on their college careers.

These programs allow instructors trained by colleges to teach college-level courses at a high school, all for a reduced tuition rate. There are 97 accredited dual credit programs around the country, and while all have their own strengths, some stand out for their offerings more than others.

To help students find quality educational opportunities, I created a list of the 10 Best Dual Credit Programs in the United States.

I arrived at this list by creating detailed criteria and using them to evaluate the existing options. Here is what that process entailed:

Criteria for the Top Ten List

When I set out on this adventure to research these colleges, I had to take some time to deeply reflect on which criteria I felt were important, from the point of view of a student, and from my own point of view as the director of a dual credit program. My guiding question was “As the director of such a program, what do I feel students need to know about dual credit institutions to guide their search?”

So, approaching my research as a curious high school student eager to gain college credit, or a family member of such a student, I combed through each of the 97 programs’ websites, viewing each on through the lens of my criteria.

Knowing that typically, people spend a minute or two reading a website, and only 10 seconds searching for the website they are looking for, I decided to limit my research to 15 minutes per institution. This gave me enough time to find the answers to important questions, and also allowed me to factor in the website’s clarity as a part of my criteria, since it’s essential that students and families be able to find answers to their questions about such programs easily. A cumbersome website or one with little information can cause a student or family to forgo this educational opportunity.

The following are the five points of criteria I used to create the list, along with explanations of their importance and meaning.

1. Is the dual credit program is accredited by the National Alliance of Concurrent Enrollment Programs?

Why it matters: A program that is accredited by the only accrediting body in the nation speaks volumes about what a given program accomplishes. NACEP has worked for years to create nationalized standards that weigh a dual credit program’s authenticity, commitment, support, and rigor of secondary education. To be an accredited member of NACEP is a token of pride, as becoming a member involves an intense process requiring programs to be transparent about what they do. This process also brings together dual credit peers to stringently review programs’ strengths and areas in which they need to improve.

What this means: Choosing this as the first guideline allowed me to shrink the list of total programs to 97 individual institutions that have earned and retained accreditation through the 2014–2015 academic year.

2. How many courses does the program offer to its students?

Why it matters: A strong dual credit program will offer its high school participants a diverse catalogue of courses for college credit. The goal of dual credit education is to give qualified students a head start on their college careers. If an institution only offers a few courses, the likelihood of a student making substantial progress on her undergraduate career is limited. If, however, the institution offers a variety of course options that fulfill core requirements and electives at universities, then the student will save time and money upon matriculating.

What this means: The list was sorted and ranked by the amount of courses listed publicly on programs’ websites. The search revealed that there is work to be done in terms of website organization and visibly listing all dual credit courses. Courses that were offered online by university faculty were counted as dual enrollment and not dual credit.

3. How many secondary partners does the institution work with?

Why it matters: For dual credit to be effective, a college or university needs to be able to recruit secondary schools and maintain strong partnerships with them. Another goal of dual credit education is to create a collegiate environment for the exchange of ideas and resources between higher education and secondary education. Additionally, a larger pool of partner high schools means that a larger population of student can access it. If a program partners with one or two high schools, only a handful of students will benefit.

What this means: Universities were sorted by the number of high school partnerships it holds. Those with greater numbers of partner institutions gained a higher ranking on the overall list.

4. What are the eligibility requirements relating to testing of GPA?

Why it matters: Dual credit programs should hold students to the same standards as on-campus courses. These classes are meant to emulate a college experience. Therefore, students need to exhibit the maturity and rigor to take on a college course in high school. One way to measure a student’s aptitude and ability to commit to this rigor is by having a mandated eligibility requirement based on GPA or standardized test scores.

What it means: A GPA is more telling of a student’s ability and academic work than a standardized test, as it directly reflects her performance on coursework leading to a final grade. Program requirements were taken from websites (where available) and sorted. I selected a B-level GPA as the minimum to be a part of the list. Most states do have a mandated policy regarding GPA or placement tests, so these, in conjunction with average standardized test scores, were considered. This category was weighted less heavily due to different standards existing in different states.

5. How much does is tuition?

Why it matters: Dual credit is meant to be an affordable option to help increase access to college. The tuition rate for dual credit classes should be drastically lower than it is for on-campus courses. The cost per credit hour is an important factor when looking the affordability of higher education. Some institutions charge the school district, which allows the credit to be free to students, and some will charge the families for the tuition. Either way, someone is paying for the credit and the cost per credit hour should be considered as a means to measure the programs’ feasibility and benefit to students and families.

What it means: Institutions’ cost per credit hour was calculated based on public information from programs’ websites. Colleges were ranked accordingly. Some institutions did not list the cost to either the family or district.

Examples from the List

The following are a few examples of the colleges that met this criteria and were placed on the list:

Boise State University

Boise State University in Idaho is a great example of a college that offers a wide array of courses at an affordable rate. The school offers more than 70 individual classes for college credit at a tuition rate of $65 per credit hour. Additionally, the school holds a high standard in eligibility by institution, requiring that 11th and 12th grade students have a 3.0 GPA to participate.

University of Connecticut

The University of Connecticut is the oldest dual credit program in America, started in 1955, and has an admirable entrepreneurial spirit. UConn has maintained an affordable rate of $45 per credit hour for over 60 courses. Additionally, the university partners with 150 institutions, allowing it to reach a large segment of students around the country.

University of Southern Indiana

The University of Southern Indiana has created a cost-effective and accessible dual credit program for its partner high school. At a tuition rate of $25 per credit hour with over 40 different courses, the value of what a student can accomplish before going to college makes this program stand out. The university stood out for its commitment to NACEP accreditation combined with the affordability and diversity of its courses.

Final Thoughts

In my overall analysis, I used these five factors to narrow the list down to ten programs that were accredited, offered a wide range of partnerships and courses for credit, held a GPA standard at B-level or better, and had a reasonable tuition cost in comparison to the cost of undergraduate education. As mentioned above, I also factored in the accessibility of the information on the programs’ websites.

While transferability is an important question, it is difficult to measure — each university has its own articulation policy. Finding this transferability is a nearly impossible task with the amount of variability per institution. Students and families should be sure to check in with their prospective programs about articulation and transferability.

The 10 Best Dual Credit Programs list is meant to highlight some top-notch programs. It’s just a place to start your search — families should still research their own options and utilize some of these questions to guide their decisions. There are many great programs out there. One only needs to start looking and asking to find out what will be the best option!

How useful is this page?

Click on a star to rate it!

Since you found this page useful...mind sharing it?

We are sorry this page was not useful for you!

Please help us improve it

How can this content be more valuable?

Questions or feedback? Email


You May Also Like To Read

Categorized as: General EducationTransfers & AdmissionsGeneral