As each year passes, more and more Gainesville and Hall County students seize the opportunity to take college courses in high school.
If House Bill 444 is signed into law in its current form, the amount of free credit hours would be capped at 30, and would limit the program to high school seniors and juniors with little exceptions.
Students wanting more than 30 college credit hours can still take courses approved by the state, if they pay for it themselves.
The bill was passed by the Senate on Jan. 28 with a 34-18 vote, and moved to the House for more debate.
Gainesville High School has 261 students in dual enrollment this year, and Hall has 838 dual enrollment students in its high schools.
Laurie Ecke, Hall’s assistant director of innovative and advanced programs, said on average, dual enrollment students in the Hall school system take six to 12 hours a year of college credit. She said ninth graders typically take up to six hours of credit, and juniors and seniors can take up to 20-30 hours.
Wendy Savitz, who oversees dual enrollment at Gainesville High, said the average number of credit hours for Gainesville students ranges from nine to 15 hours.
“Last year, 40 hours was the maximum hours earned by a single student earned with a total of six students earning more than 30 hours,” Savitz said. “I do not anticipate that changing dramatically this year.”
In Hall, high school students can earn college credits at Lanier College and Career Academy and Howard E. Ivester Early College. Both Gainesville and Hall students also have the option of receiving credits from courses at the University of North Georgia, Brenau University and Lanier Technical College.
Although some changes would come to schools offering dual enrollment in Gainesville and Hall, Ecke said she’s grateful that the current dual enrollment students would be grandfathered into the bill. Students who have taken dual enrollment classes before June 30, 2020, would not be subject to the 30 credit hour limit.
Ecke said because of the pending bill, Hall has had to put its dual enrollment applications for next year on hold.
“We’ll have to wait to schedule those students until we hear what the final bill includes,” she said. “If the governor signs the bill, then schools would know right away how to respond.”
Gov. Brian Kemp and fellow Republicans want to hold spending at its current level of $105 million a year, according to The Associated Press. In 2015, when the state liberalized rules, it was spending only $23 million a year.
The state already stopped paying for student fees and books to hold costs down, but the program is projected to grow to 73,000 students in Georgia, spending $123 million in the budget year beginning July 1 if nothing changes.
Both Ecke and Gainesville Superintendent Jeremy Williams said they’re not worried about any issues arising in their districts because of the bill.
Williams said Gainesville has already started being proactive, since knowing about the legislation.
“We’ve anticipated this for a number of years,” Williams said. “We’ve already got great partnerships with Lanier Tech, Brenau and UNG. The biggest thing for us is that an overwhelming majority of our dual enrollment students are already juniors and seniors, so it’s not going to have a major impact.”
Although students would only be able to take up to 30 hours of dual enrollment, Ecke said they can still take advantage of opportunities from Career, Technical and Agricultural Education programs; Advanced Placement classes; and International Baccalaureate courses
“I certainly understand that this is due to this initiative taking off like it has across the state,” Ecke said. “And, that there needed to be a return to what the purpose was for dual enrollment, and a way for having sustainable funding to meet this goal. I feel confident that we’ll continue to work together to meet the needs of our students.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.