SOUTH PLAINFIELD, NJ – Through a partnership with Middlesex County College (MCC), South Plainfield students are able to earn both high school and college credit. The Dual Enrollment program, offered through MCC’s K-12 Partnership, is open to high school students in pre-approved classes that meet specific criteria set forth by the college. 

“The Dual Enrollment program is helping our students get a jumpstart on a college degree while still in high school and doing no more or less than they would be required to in a specific class,” said Sam Fierra, director of guidance for the South Plainfield School District.

At South Plainfield High School, approximately 20 sections of 11 different course offerings are offered through the MCC partnership with 118 students taking part in the Dual Enrollment program during the 2019-2020 school year. Courses include, but aren’t limited to anatomy and physiology, honors pre-calculus, Spanish 4 honors, English 4 honors, sociology, algebra 3/trigonometry, and introduction to computer science.

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"Dual credit serves as an opportunity for students to get a feel for college and university subject matter through foundational, entry level courses," said Mary Malyska, the district's assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction.

According to Kimberlee Hooper, director of K-12 Partnerships at MCC, the number of high school students taking part in the program has increased by nearly 60 percent in recent years. MCC, she said, went from serving 22 schools in 2016 to 37 in 2019, while the number of high school students taking MCC classes has gone from just under 1,800 in 2017-18 to over 3,100 in 2019-2020.

“We’ve seen extensive growth over the past three years,” said Hooper. 

While the partnership with South Plainfield began well over 10 years ago, the district's administrative team has, over recent years, worked diligently to enhance the dual credit program. According to Malyska, the significant growth in enrollment at South Plainfield High School can be attributed to shifts in the scheduling process, better promotion of the program, and expanded course offering list.

“The guidance department, headed by Director Sam Fierra, really stepped things up. They packaged it and sold it better, making our community more aware of the possibilities and benefits of the dual credit program," said Malyska, adding, "As a result, our students have benefited both scholastically and financially." 

The flexibility and low-cost associated with the program, said Hooper, is another contributing factor with high school students able to take a 3-or 4-credit class for $125, including tuition and fees. 

“Parents love that they can save literally thousands of dollars by having their kids take classes that will transfer to a four-year institution,” she said.

“It’s the deal of a lifetime. Students are taking a required high school course and earning college credit for just $125 a class, by doing nothing more than they would already be doing. This is so important because, as a parent in this day and age, sending a child off to college is very expensive. Every little bit helps," said Fierra, noting that a student must maintain a grade of 'C' or better in order to earn credit and receive a transcript from MCC and that there is no limit to the number of dual courses a student can take or how many credits they can earn throughout their high school career.

"If you’re able to go in and take credits off the required 120 needed [to earn a degree from a four-year institution], taking part in this program is essentially going to save you a lot of money in the long run," Fierra said. 

For Sonali Budhan, a member of South Plainfield High School’s Class of 2019, being a part of the program while in high school enabled her to earn college credits in Spanish and English as well as pre-calculus. 

“Over the course of her high school career, Budhan was able to achieve 12 college credits through the Dual Enrollment program, garnering her nearly a semester of college already under her belt prior to receiving her high school diploma,” said Fierra, telling TAPinto that Budhan plans to transfer to a four-year college and study science after finishing up at MCC. “These credits will get her there that much quicker.”

“If I hadn't taken those classes I don’t think I would be as well-prepared as I am now," Budhan said. “They really give you a feel for how you're supposed to act and how you're supposed to have everything done in college."

High school courses included in the Dual Enrollment program must be approved by MCC based on specific curriculum criteria, as well as a teacher’s credentials. According to Malyska, as director of guidance, Fierra worked in partnership with MCC to review course approval procedures so that ‘South Plainfield courses were in alignment with MCC requirements, thereby expanding the amount of courses included in the dual credit program.'

"The partnership with South Plainfield has flourished over the last few years and the students have really been able to take advantage of the course offerings for dual enrollment," said Hooper. "As a district, South Plainfield is focused on providing their students with opportunities to enrich their knowledge, advance their studies, and prepare for college, and MCC is honored to be part of those journeys."

Through the Dual Enrollment program, students are also able to become acclimated with the college experience in terms of the amount of work and what is expected of them while also building their academic profile and helping to solidify their career goals.

"This can ultimately help shape students’ decision making in determining their major and minor areas of study," said Malyska, adding, "Participation in the program shows they can work at a college level and meet the expected rigor of a college course."

Additionally, said Hooper, the program provides students with the opportunity to explore different areas of study before they make a decision about a particular career path. “You may think you are interested in one field but after taking a class or two, decide that it’s not for you. It’s much better to find that out before you are too far along,” she said, adding, "Our hope is that we’re part of the process for these students, whether it’s one course, 10 courses, or a degree.”

South Plainfield High School students looking for more information on courses available and registration deadlines, should contact their guidance counselor. According to the K-12 Partnership website (https://www.middlesexcc.edu/k-12-partnerships/0), MCC cannot guarantee transfer of any course(s) taken for credit; check njtransfer.org or inquire with the receiving institution(s) prior to registration.

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