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Howard County Times
Howard County

‘This is a huge equity lever’: Howard public high school students can now take unlimited community college classes for free

By the time Isabella Clancy, 16, graduates from Oakland Mills High School, she hopes to be halfway through college.

Clancy is one of more than 1,200 Howard County public school students dual enrolled at Howard Community College’s campus in Columbia. That number is likely to grow since HCPSS students can now take an unlimited number of HCC classes for free because of the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future legislation.

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“I’ve heard that the switch from high school to college can be really difficult,” said Clancy, who attends HCC full-time and is working toward both her high school diploma and an associate degree. “It’s good to get practice with that before you’re on your own completely.”

Dual enrollment is one of several post-college and career readiness pathways included in the Blueprint, a sweeping legislative package passed in 2020 that will pour $3.8 billion into state education programs during the next decade.

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Howard County’s dual enrollment program JumpStart allows participants to earn college credits on HCC’s campus or through high school-based courses taught by certified faculty. All dual-enrolled students receive full access to HCC resources, including wellness centers and libraries.

“Literature really supports that once students are successful in one or two JumpStart dual enrollment courses, their likelihood of being successful in a four-year university setting increases exponentially,” HCPSS dual enrollment coordinator LaRee Siddiqui said.

In October 2022, the Maryland State Department of Education issued guidance to all state public schools saying the Blueprint required them to pay all applicable tuition costs for students dual enrolled at local community colleges that had existing agreements with districts.

As a result, HCC and other Maryland community colleges issued refunds to dual enrolled students for the fall 2022 semester and re-billed school districts. The re-billings cost HCPSS about $645,000, according to Siddiqui, who says the school system is working dual enrollment cost projections into its fiscal 2024 operating budget.

“The program has grown really significantly already,” Siddiqui said. “Based on the guidance that it was free we did anticipate perhaps a 20% growth rate between this year and next year.”

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While dual enrollment has existed in a limited form since 2013, the program expanded significantly after HCPSS opened its Office of Dual Enrollment in 2018. Since then, the number of students taking HCC-based courses has grown by more than 100% to 1,215 as of Jan. 6. More than 1,200 students are also enrolled in the high school-based college classes.

Twenty percent of students taking courses on HCC’s campus this year receive free and reduced meals, and Siddiqui said the shift to free tuition will further close opportunity gaps.

“We are definitely reaching a population that would not necessarily have been able to access college in the past,” she said. “This is a huge equity lever. Earning 60 college credits at no cost is significant.”

Most JumpStart students aim for one to three college courses per semester, Siddiqui said, but last year 22 HCPSS students earned the 60 credits necessary to graduate high school with an associate degree.

With her degree, Clancy aims to graduate from a four-year college in two years and then attend law school. Her favorite HCC class so far has been physics, where she participated in projectile motion energy labs.

HCC spring semester classes begin Jan. 28 and students who apply receive acceptance letters within about 48 hours of submission, according to Rebecca Morrow, assistant director of admissions at the college.

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To learn more about dual enrollment in Howard County, visit https://www.hcpss.org/jumpstart/.


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