A new pilot program will allow high school students in Billings to earn credits toward high school graduation and for college for free.
The project is called High School Connections. It was spearheaded by Montana State University Billings.
Commissioner of Higher Education Clayton Christian says even though Billings has the most students in the state, it has a fairly low participation rate in dual enrollment. He says officials are wondering why. Are their barriers? Is it cost?
“We’ve done other things, including lowering the cost of tuition,” he says “But we never really removed the barrier. Granted it’s been reduced from $600 and some dollars down to $150 and we feel great about that. But it’s still $150.”
So beginning with the coming academic year, dual enrollment will be free for at least one year.
Christian says that’s important for families because these high school students can’t benefit from scholarships, student loans or grants that are available to traditional college students.
He says another potential barrier is the perception dual enrollment is only for the highest performing students.
“But that’s not necessarily the case,” he says. “In fact, what we know from some of the early data is B and C students actually see more of a GPA gain than higher performing students. So it really is for all students.”
Especially those, says Governor Steve Bullock who think they’re not cut out for college. He hopes this will show those students they can be successful in college.
“Ultimately we know that students that get college exposure and experience while in high school they’re not only more likely to go to college, they’re more likely to get better grades and graduate on time,” says Bullock.
Bullock says in the first three years of dual enrollment Montana families saved $3 million dollars in tuition costs.
The Democrat set a goal of increasing 1,000 more students each year for the next 3 years in dual enrollment.
Commissioner Clayton Christian says the Montana University System will evaluate this pilot program after coming academic year. He says if it is successful education officials will look to expand it across the state.
Christian says it is one way to help campuses like MSUB that are struggling with low enrollment and it helps students and their families.
“We need to see in Montana a greater percentage of our population with some post-secondary certificate or degree or beyond,” Christian says. “And we know we need to get a broader segment of our population involved to do that.” He says this effort drives that home.