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Joint Enrollment program the real 'no-brainer'

With apologies to that obnoxious guy on the radio who keeps pestering us to refinance our homes, taking on more debt isn't really "the biggest no-brainer in the world."

No, that title belongs to Joint Enrollment, the University System of Georgia program allowing qualified high school seniors - and even some juniors - to take college classes for dual credit, essentially free of charge.

"Dual credit" means the classes Joint Enrollment students take to meet university system core requirements, like freshman comp, college algebra and political systems, also fulfill state high school graduation requirements.

Thus, at the end of the year, those students have the credits they need to graduate from high school, AND they have college credits which they can transfer to any school in the state university system, as well as to many out-of-state and private schools.

In fact, students who take a full load can accumulate up to a year of college credit. Some have been known to complete two full years and earn an associate degree before they even graduate from high school.

In the interests of full disclosure, I must confess to a bias in favor of Joint Enrollment, based on personal experience. My daughter took a full load at Georgia Perimeter College's Lawrenceville Campus during her senior year and is now a 19-year-old college junior at a selective private university.

My son, a high school senior who was recently accepted to an even more prestigious institution (no sibling rivalry there), is attending GPC-Lawrence-ville full-time right now. When he "starts school" this fall, he'll be a sophomore (although not, I hope, sophomoric).

"But wait," you're saying to yourself, "I've never heard of any of this." That may be because your local high school would rather you didn't. Many schools prefer to steer their advanced students into gifted and Advanced Placement courses, for which the schools typically receive additional funding.

While it's true that Joint Enrollment might not be the best option for every student, the students themselves, along with their parents, should do the homework and make up their own minds. Here are some of the specific questions they need to ask:

Is an AP course really equivalent to a college course? Is it in fact possible to replicate a college course within a high school environment? (Parents, consider your own experiences in high school and college as you mull over that question.)

What are the pass rates on the AP exams at your school? Remember, to get college credit for an AP course, you have to pass the College Board's exam at the end, whereas a Joint Enrollment student who passes a course with a C or better automatically receives credit.

And finally, the most important question: Where do I sign up for Joint Enrollment?

Rob Jenkins is associate professor of English at Georgia Perimeter College. E-mail him at rjenkinsgdp@yahoo.com.