Students at Valentine Community Schools are receiving a head start on their college education thanks to the VCS Foundation.
According to Ronelle Kilmer, Valentine High School counselor and foundation member, the foundation is paying more than $43,000 in tuition during the 2018-19 school year to help nearly 70 students take dual credit courses through Mid-Plains Community College.
Dual credit courses are taught in the high school, but count toward both high school and college credit at the same time.
"We've been partnering with MPCC to offer dual credit classes for our students for years," said Kilmer. "But, this is the first time the foundation has covered the tuition up front. In the past, the students were responsible for that cost, and it was challenging for some. We have students taking six, 10 and even 16 credit hours, and when you throw a sibling into the mix that adds up. Last year, we had students bringing in dollar bills and quarters to try to make their payments."
Because of generous contributions from community and alumni donors, the foundation had the funds to take over the initial cost.
"As a foundation, we thought, 'If we can do this, why aren't we'?" Kilmer said. "We felt like it was a safe investment because we are getting the money back from Mid-Plains. The growth we have seen as a result has been phenomenal."
During the 2017-18 school year, Valentine had 42 students taking 259 credit hours through Mid-Plains. This year, participation has increased to 69 students taking 405 credit hours.
"That's a pretty significant difference, and it's all because of the change," Kilmer said. "Some of those students would not have been able to afford college if the foundation hadn't stepped in to cover the initial cost, which is a shame because the value of taking dual credit classes is immense."
The way Kilmer looks at it - not only are students saving money by taking college classes while still in high school, VCS also pays for their books, but they could be shaving off a semester or even a year of college.
She makes sure to tout the benefits of dual credit when registering students as young as eighth grade. Dual credit classes are also promoted in the high school by the instructors who teach them and are listed in Valentine's course description booklet both in print and online.
"What we've seen is that students who take dual credit courses in high school are more likely to continue their postsecondary education because they've had that start and that exposure to a college environment," Kilmer said. "Every one of our seniors who took dual credit last year continued on. The expectation was there for them to do so."
More information about Mid-Plains and the dual credit classes it offers can be found online at mpcc.edu.