A growing number of students are earning high school and college credit simultaneously at Lanier Technical College, and school officials hope to broaden the program sometime next year.
With dual enrollment, high school students can begin taking college courses their junior year and can earn a certificate as a senior. They also earn credits toward high school.
Lanier, which has a main campus in Oakwood, initiated their program about 10 years ago with five dual enrollment courses, Lanier curriculum coordinator Melba Daniels said.
Today, Gainesville and Hall County students can select from 14 classes at the Oakwood campus. Dual enrollment is also offered at the school's four other campuses in Northeast Georgia, and about 100 high school students are enrolled throughout the Lanier Tech system.
At a small gathering at Lanier Tech Wednesday, college President Russell Vandiver and superintendents of the Hall County and Gainesville school systems signed the annual Dual Enrollment Agreement at the Oakwood campus.
The document confirms each school system's commitment to the program.
Jeff Fitzpatrick, high school coordinator at Lanier Tech, said dual enrollment gives high schools the opportunity to expand their curriculum at no cost, while enabling the college to potentially attract future students. It also gives some students the chance to get a jump start on their careers by completing courses at a younger age.
"It's really a win-win for all involved," he said.
Though nothing has been formally approved, he said program leaders are looking at next year expanding the culinary, criminal justice and nursing classes, which are among the most popular dual enrollment fields at the college.
Gainesville Superintendent Merrianne Dyer said school officials also want to explore providing student transportation to and from the campus.
Vandiver told superintendents growth is important to the college, but there will be some funding challenges ahead.
"We need to find a way to work through these issues to give students the opportunity to have viable options," Vandiver said.
"Our future growth will come directly out of your schools," he added.
Fitzpatrick said the dual enrollment program is similar to those found at other colleges across the state. The program is open to every student, however students can't just enroll; they must first qualify.
Acceptance is based on several factors, including passing a college placement test.
Once enrolled in the program, students can apply for the state's HOPE Grant. The grant is a non-need based grant, separate from the Hope scholarship, for Georgia residents seeking technical certificates or diplomas. The funding covers all tuition at Lanier and the grant provides students an allowance each quarter that applies toward the purchase of books.
Parents or students are responsible for the difference.
Though there is an attempted hours "cap" on the length of the HOPE payment of 127 semester hours of credit, the cap doesn't apply to dual enrollment, Daniels said.
"Students won't lose those hours in the (dual enrollment) program," she said.
Fitzpatrick said the most demanded dual enrollment class at the college is for nursing. High school students learn some of the early fundamentals of medicine.
"Whichever area of the medical field they are thinking about going into, this has the basic information they're going to need," he said.
He said he believes students feel the medical field will more resilient to the economy in the future.
Lanier also offers joint enrollment, a program where high school students only earn college credits, not high school credits as well. Joint enrollment started about 10 years ago, and rather than attend classes during the school day, asunder the dual program, students attend class after high school hours.
High schools in the Gainesville and Hall County districts have also joined forces with other local colleges to provide dual enrollment, including Gainesville State College, Brenau University and North Georgia College & State University.
Through its partnerships with local colleges, both the Gainesville and Hall County school systems hope to one day be the first in the nation to graduate participating high school students with a licensed practical nurse degree, Hall County Superintendent Will Schofield said at the meeting.