(HELENA) Montana leaders have launched a new program to encourage more high school students to take college classes through dual enrollment.
Governor Steve Bullock and state Commissioner of Higher Education Clayton Christian announced on Thursday the “One-Two-Free” initiative. It will allow all eligible high school students to take two free dual enrollment courses through the Montana University System.
“I think students shouldn’t have to make decisions about their futures, based on what the costs of college tuition could be,” said Bullock. “So it’s an investment that’s certainly worth making.”
Dual enrollment programs let students take college courses while still in high school. More than 90 high schools around the state currently offer dual enrollment. In some cases, the classes are actually conducted on high school campuses.
Bullock said about 2,500 students were involved in dual enrollment programs when he took office in 2013. Now, that number has grown to more than 6,000 students.
Christian said the state has already taken steps to reduce the cost of dual enrollment, but they wanted to do more to make the programs more accessible.
“What we’ve found is, for high school students without any access to financial support, any cost remained a pretty substantial barrier,” he said.
The One-Two-Free program will start immediately. Bullock said students already taking their first or second dual enrollment class will soon receive refunds.
Leaders said getting an early introduction to college courses can give students an important step forward. They said Montana University System students who went through dual enrollment have stronger results in college and are more likely to stay and finish their degrees.
“By even starting this now, we know that if you decide to go to two- or four-year college, all the data suggests you will be better prepared than the rest of the students,” Bullock said.
Bullock and Christian made their announcement during a dual enrollment welding class at Helena High. They said they wanted to highlight that dual enrollment includes not only academic courses, but also other classes that highlight additional career opportunities.
Christian said there are many paths through higher education.
“We hope that you will participate in them, and that you will see yourself as college material and come back to us in the years to come, and finish your associate’s degree or your bachelor’s degree, or wherever that path takes you in college,” he said.
Leaders first offered free dual enrollment tuition as a pilot program in Billings, starting in 2016. State program manager Amy Williams said the number of Billings high schoolers taking dual enrollment classes increased from just over 500 in 2015 to 1,078 this year.