(BPT) - In today's globally competitive economy, a college degree is increasingly becoming a critical factor in attaining career success. Yet, as of October 2011, only 68 percent of the year's high school graduates had enrolled in a college or university, even though the national unemployment rate of high school graduates is nearly twice as high as that of college graduates - 7.9 percent and 4 percent, respectively.
Addressing the need for more college- and employment-ready high school graduates, many policymakers, educators and researchers promote dual-enrollment programs as an effective vehicle for building a workforce with the knowledge and skills needed to succeed in a 21st century economy.
Dual-enrollment programs allow high school students to jump-start their postsecondary education and career by enrolling in college courses before they graduate, earning both high school and college credits in the process.
DeVry University, for example, launched its Advantage Academy in 2004 to improve college access for high school students with limited financial resources. In two academic years and one summer session, students can earn an associate degree in a high-growth career field while they finish high school.
Eligible high school students in the public school systems in Chicago, Atlanta and Columbus, Ohio may enroll to earn their associate degree in health information technology, network system administration or Web graphic design. Graduates of the program can either enter the workforce or enroll in a bachelor's degree program at DeVry University or another institution.
'Dual-enrollment programs help meet a growing need for more academically and professionally prepared high school students, arming them with tools and resources that can improve their college and career decisions,' says Steve Pappageorge, dean of the College of Continuing Education, New Programs and Outreach at DeVry University. 'Programs like DeVry University's Advantage Academy can help remove barriers to college access while introducing students to career opportunities in high-demand fields.'
Triplets Simeon, Sydney and Shea Spivey can attest to the value of dual-enrollment programs. Each of the incoming high school seniors is deep in college planning mode and currently enrolled in Advantage Academy. Columbus City Schools (CCS) and DeVry University cover their tuition costs, so they can graduate from high school with two years of higher education to put toward four-year degree programs without incurring student debt.
'Advantage Academy has helped me become more familiar with the college experience and realize all of the benefits it offers,' says Simeon Spivey. 'My siblings and I hope to attend colleges on the East Coast, and we feel more confident knowing we'll be applying with associate degrees under our belts.'
When they graduate in June 2013, the Spivey triplets will be two years ahead of their peers academically.
By 2018, approximately 63 percent of the 47 million U.S. jobs will require workers with some postsecondary education. Dual-enrollment programs provide high school students with an effective on-ramp to college and career success, helping to close the gap between students' knowledge and the skills needed to achieve professional success in a globally competitive economy.