By the time she graduates next spring, Carthage High School senior Lexi Black could have nearly a semester’s worth of college credit under her belt.

That’s thanks to dual-credit classes offered at her high school through a partnership with Missouri Southern State University. Black is in a dual-credit human anatomy and physiology class that was preparing Thursday for a test next week on advanced biology concepts.

“I plan on going into the medical field,” said Black, who wants to be an orthopedic surgeon. “If I’m taking this class anyway, I might as well take it now because it’s way less expensive in high school.”

Participation in the concurrent enrollment program — encompassing students taking dual-credit or dual-enrollment courses at the high school level — at Missouri Southern has more than doubled over the past six years, officials announced last week in a report to the university’s governing board.

Enrollment this fall is at 607 students, a 110 percent increase over the 289 students who were enrolled in fall 2013, according to information from Paula Carson, provost and vice president for academic affairs. The number of credit hours taken by these students also has increased by 110 percent during the same time period to a record 2,708 credit hours.

The courses are offered to high school students in most cases for $50 per credit hour — a steep discount from the full tuition rate this year of $222.24 per credit hour. To assure the quality of the courses, Missouri Southern partners with qualified instructors from participating high schools and helps review the curriculum and textbooks, Carson said.

The overall goal, she said, is not only to offer an affordable way for high school students to earn some college credit before graduation but also to encourage and motivate those who weren’t previously on a path toward college.

“If they have the opportunity in high school (for dual-credit courses), it’ll give them the efficacy and self-confidence to say, ‘I can do this,’” Carson said. “We just think it opens doors to a lot of underserved populations.”

‘They can be successful’

Participating students this fall come from 28 schools from as far away as Pike and Henry counties and Festus, just south of the St. Louis area. That means Missouri Southern is getting its name out across the state, and students who take dual-credit courses through MSSU more frequently are enrolling there when it comes time to go to college.

“A lot of people think dual credit or college might not be for them ... but it’s a great time to realize that college might actually be for you,” said Brett Meeker, director of concurrent enrollment. “We want students to realize they can be successful.”

Growing interest in the concurrent enrollment program is a trend that Joyce Martin has seen firsthand. She used to teach a handful of dual-credit science courses alongside general biology at Carthage High School, but her entire schedule this year is dual-credit and advanced anatomy and biology classes, and they’re full of students eager to get a leg up in the sciences.

“(Dual credit) helps them financially, it helps them timewise to get through college faster and it helps them to master material more efficiently because we have a whole year, whereas a college course is 16 weeks,” Martin said. “I hope my students come out prepared.”

Black is a student in Martin’s class this year; by the time she graduates, she also could have college credit in biology and English. She enjoys dual-credit classes for their college feel — students take notes, study on their own time and take tests to ensure they’ve mastered each unit.

“It’s definitely way more advanced than other classes,” she said.

Kelsey Ordonez, another senior in Martin’s class and a future dentist, expects that she can jump straight into an anatomy II class when she arrives at college next fall. She plans to attend Missouri Southern to major in a pre-dental field.

“This class has been helpful,” she said. “Now I know that I’ll know most of this information when I get to college.”

Emily Younker is the assistant metro editor at the Joplin Globe. Contact: eyounker AT joplinglobe DOT com.

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