Across the nation, the rate of high schoolers graduating with associate's degrees and college credits is on the rise. As the rate has grown by 7% a year, it's clear that students are interested in earning postsecondary credentials earlier on in their academic careers. Before high school commencement this past May, hundreds and possibly thousands of students had earned their associate degree while still in high school.

Many high schools offer the chance for students to explore more challenging college-level coursework, such as Advanced Placement (AP) courses that offer students the chance to earn college credits, broaden their horizons, and prepare for college. Approximately 20% of high school students in the U.S. are enrolled in a college credit course, but those who go the extra mile to earn the 60 credits needed for an associate's degree remain the few and far between. According to the National Alliance of Concurrent Enrollment Partnerships, or NACEP, that rate is rising. In Iowa and New Mexico, 50% of high school students are taking college credit courses. Some state programs subsidize pathway programs for high school students to enroll in college courses on their campus. Other programs like AP courses allow for high school teachers to offer college-level courses for in-class models.

The traditional high school route isn't right for every student. For some, the more money saved and the less time spent in school makes more sense. Non-traditional or career-focused students should have access to alternative routes to higher education during their high school experience. The fact that high schools and states are offering students the chance to earn college credits at a subsidized or waived price is a step in the right direction.

The accelerated track to college is not the right fit for all students; many teens need this time for self-discovery and aren't emotionally or mentally prepared for college. But for students interested in vocational and STEM fields, such as careers in manufacturing and IT, it makes sense to provide pathway programs for those who know their career paths early. It's time for high schools and local governments to take an interest in these students who are paving the way against the odds to earn their dual degrees. Who knows what our nation's young adults might be capable of if we can offer easier and more affordable access to pathway to higher-ed programs?   

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Resources: Photo Credit (1) More students getting college degrees in high school (2) High school associate's degrees on the rise