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College credits in peril for high schoolers

Tyler Bubin could save about $26,000 and graduate a year early from college because of Woodland Hills School District's dual enrollment program, which allows seniors, and sometimes juniors, to earn high school and college credits at the same time by taking classes at a university or community college.

Future students might not be so lucky.

Some districts that covered the costs of college courses could require families to foot the bill beginning this fall if lawmakers agree to Gov. Tom Corbett's budget proposal to eliminate the program money. Districts also could reduce the number of students who participate.

Woodland Hills paid tuition, fees and transportation costs for Bubin and others in the dual enrollment program.

"It was a great opportunity to get a lot of the education done for cheap," said Bubin, 18, of Wilkins, who plans to attend Miami University of Ohio this fall. He has taken nine college classes since the spring semester of his junior year.

"I fit in well, and it prepared me for college-level courses," he said. "It was a lot more independent. I liked that. It definitely challenged you."

In Western Pennsylvania, 83 school districts received about $1 million from the state this year for dual enrollment programs. Statewide, districts got $6.95 million.

"The purpose of dual enrollment was to make (college) more affordable to a wider range of students," said Tom Shipley, director of secondary education for the Greensburg Salem School District. "We're still supporting dual enrollment ... but all of the cost would be borne by the student."

Between 2006-07 and 2010-11, the number of districts seeking state money for dual enrollment jumped 27 percent.

West Mifflin High School Principal Mark Hoover said if the district loses the $11,000 it receives, it won't be able to offer the program for free anymore. The district spends $15,000 of its money on the program.

"Unfortunately, that type of perk has to go away," he said.

Mackenzie DiDominic, 18, was among 23 seniors who participated in West Mifflin's program this year. She took four classes at Community College of Allegheny County's South Campus "because my high school classes were very limited."

DiDominic took science and economics courses at CCAC, earning enough college credits to completed her first semester toward a degree in business marketing at the University of Pittsburgh.

"It was a better chance to get the credits and fill my schedule with classes that were actually worth something," she said.

Woodland Hills got about $71,000 in state money -- the most among districts in the region because of the large number of low-income students involved -- to transport 12 students to Point Park University and CCAC's Boyce Campus. The district paid the students' tuition.

Despite needing to cut a projected $8.5 million from its budget, Superintendent Walter Calinger said Woodland Hills will keep funding its dual enrollment program at this year's level.

"Our parents and our district in general is poor, and we have to give our students a change at higher education," he said. "It's a way of giving them a leg up on college and the expense."

Only two South Allegheny High School students participated in the program this year; it cost the state about $7,500. The district has not decided whether to support the program if state money ends, spokeswoman Laura Thomson said.

Autumn Craven, 17, of Lincoln, a senior at South Allegheny, said dual enrollment helped jump-start her planned nursing career. She earned enough credits to graduate a semester early.

"My dad got diagnosed with heart problems (four years ago), and when we were in the hospital, I'd watch the nurses come in," said Craven, who enrolled in CCAC's nursing program.

"I became a nurse's aide going to the (Steel Center Career Technical School), and I wanted to start working -- and once I started, I thought, 'I should really start in the RN program now,'" she said.

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