From high school to college, the path made easier
Dual Credit Program offers students a head start and a way forward.
by Lynn Rees Lambert
Remember the draggy-end of high school? The same-old same-old? The itch to be done with the grind of captivity … I mean classes.
Not to mention the challenge of determining what to do once you reach freedom. So many choices, so many decisions. Navigating your way into that place called the future is more than a little daunting.
But chin up. There’s help. In fact, there’s a concerted effort to encourage students to stay in high school, get that diploma and move forward along an educational or career route.
It’s called the Dual Credit Program and it allows students to take a college course (or two) while still in high school. The credits they earn count towards both their Ontario Secondary School Diploma (OSSD) and a postsecondary diploma, degree or apprenticeship certification.
Here in Ottawa, Dual Credit courses are offered at Algonquin College in partnership with area school boards. Not only do they serve as an incentive for students to finish high school, they also help them make the transition to college or an apprenticeship. And they’re designed particularly to support kids facing challenges in meeting OSSD requirements.
Challenges, meaning students who are bored and generally unclear about where they’re heading, says Dawn Quigley, educational consultant in Guidance and Pathways with the Ottawa Catholic School Board. “The ideal candidate is described as disengaged, an underachiever at risk to graduate,” she says. Smart, but stuck.
Thankfully, there’s a way out.
Jeremy McQuigge is acting manager of Academic Partnerships at Algonquin College and he says, “In the last few years there has been 1,000 funded seats each year shared across the three campuses.” In other words, plenty of students are taking the opportunity to get ahead and experience college life.
About 20 years ago the Ministry of Education looked at why high school graduates were not considering college, especially students who were about to give up even though they had the potential to succeed, he explains. Educators came up with a way to put the spotlight on what colleges have to offer students “if they could just finish high school.” Enter the Dual Credit Program.
“It’s working,” says McQuigge, noting the provincial graduation rate has been steadily chugging along to reach a solid 85.5 per cent. “The Dual Credit Program is cited as the core reason for the graduation rate continuing to climb.”
The range of courses includes business, policing, environmental studies, décor and design, hospitality and tourism, and advanced technology in blueprints and drafting. Apprenticeship courses are in hairstyling, automotive service technician, auto body technician and chef training. Many students take a Dual Credit course in conjunction with a cooperative education program that allows for timetable flexibility.
“There’s high interest in the skilled trades programs,” says McQuigge, as well as “nursing, biology and waste water programs. Students get excited when they get into a lab.”
Funding covers the college courses, transportation and costs associated with text books and materials. Although usually students take one Dual Credit course, sometimes, depending on circumstances, they can dip into the well a couple of times. While at Notre Dame Catholic High School, Dylan Rodrigues took the Career and College Success Skills course and then Pre-Trades Exploration. “Both dual credits were a good fit,” he notes on the college website that features student testimonials. “It was a good change. It kept me motivated to stay and work in school. I needed to be with other people with the same interests. It was good to see new faces other than the same ones from high school every day.”
The first course helped him prepare for college while the second was also useful. “The best thing about this course was that it was hands-on and had actual lab work.” It was the trades course that helped him make up his mind about his next step. He’s attending Algonquin in the electrical engineering program and hopes to eventually go into commercial plumbing.
The backbone of the Dual Credit Program, says Quigley, is to get students physically into a college and then help them to see themselves in that setting.
For Andrew Azar, who took one of the Algonquin courses while at St. Patrick’s Catholic High School, the freedom was welcome. “There’s a weight lifted off your shoulders. You don’t feel like you’re in prison like at high school. You’re not there because you have to be there, you are there because you want to be.” The experience made a difference, he reports. “It helped me stay engaged in school. It shifted my focus and made me take responsibility.” Andrew has since been accepted into Algonquin’s police foundations program.
For details, see www.gotocollege.ca or talk to your school’s guidance counsellor.