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Weigh pros, cons of courses

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Local high school students have more than one way to earn multiple college credits by the time they get their high school diplomas.

Juniors and seniors who want to get a head start earning college credits have two options: Advanced Placement courses or dual enrollment courses.

Which is the better course depends who you ask.

Greenwood, Whiteland, Franklin and Center Grove schools all have a mix of AP and dual enrollment courses for students, but Greenwood has been cutting back on the number of AP courses in favor of dual enrollment.

That’s because AP students who want to earn college credit from the course must pass an end-of-the year exam about what they’ve been taught. But students in dual credit courses are guaranteed college credit from universities and colleges, including Indiana University and Ivy Tech Community College, based on the grades they earn in their high school class, guidance director Bill Ronk said.

“It’s money in the bank. If you can leave here with a full semester of college credit on a college transcript, that’s real money. And that’s important in this economy,” he said.

The courses are accredited through specific colleges and universities, such as IU and Ivy Tech, and are typically cheaper than the courses offered to traditional college students. The cost per credit hour can vary from $25 to $75, compared with the $205 per credit hour students pay at IU, Ronk said.

Students taking dual enrollment courses don’t have to take a test at the end of the year to receive their credits — the grade they get in the course is listed on a transcript they receive from whatever college accredited the course.

But while dual enrollment credits from IU and Ivy Tech may be welcomed by public colleges in Indiana, the state’s private colleges and universities, as well as those in other states, may not recognize or prefer them as much as AP courses. That’s partly because AP courses are created by College Board, the same company that runs the SAT exam, Whiteland Community High School Interim principal John Schilawski said.

Whiteland recently received a grant to bolster its AP program, in part by paying students and teachers $100 for every AP exam passed with a score of three out of five or higher, over the next three years.

Schilawski prefers AP courses over dual credit offerings because the courses are more widely recognized and students who take but don’t pass the end-of-year exams are better prepared for college courses as freshmen, he said.

If students are strong test-takers who have typically done well in honors courses, then AP courses often are recommended.

To earn college credit through an AP course students must take an exam at the end of the year with questions over everything they’ve been taught. The exam costs about $80, is graded on a scale of one to five, and most of Indiana’s public colleges require students to earn at least a three before granting them college credit. And private colleges and those outside Indiana might require fours and fives.

Schilawski still wants Whiteland to provide an equal number of AP and dual enrollment courses because they’ll be preferred by different sets of students.

AP courses might be the preference for students who view themselves as good test-takers or who plan to leave Indiana for college.

Students who don’t know what to expect from a college-level course and who aren’t sure they could pass the AP exam may prefer the dual enrollment courses, he said.

“To say one is better than the other is not a true measurement of either one. I believe, in the individual needs of the student, that there is where one is more appropriate than the other,” he said.

When students at Center Grove and Franklin high schools are signing up for college courses, their counselors ask them the same questions Schilawski posed.

Both schools have an equal number of AP and dual enrollment courses, though recently Franklin has been adding more dual enrollment courses, Center Grove guidance director Pam Price and Franklin principal Doug Harter said.

Center Grove, Franklin and Whiteland high schools also have early college programs, but those are geared specifically toward students who want to graduate high school with an associate’s degree along with their diploma.

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