Waco Independent School District is now the No. 1 local education agency offering dual-credit courses, after a jump in involvement and opportunities this year, McLennan Community College and school district officials said.

Three years ago, Waco ISD had the fifth-largest dual-credit program MCC worked with, but the program has grown by 253 percent since then to become the biggest, said Scott McClanahan, Waco ISD’s Advanced Academics director.

Students from other school districts, private schools and charter schools are returning to Waco ISD to take advantage of the opportunities, McClanahan said. Though he didn’t have an exact number, he said students have returned from Vangaurd College Preparatory School, Reicher Catholic High School, Rapoport Academy, Midway ISD and others.

“They’re not all coming back specifically for dual-credit, but because they see the number of different opportunities we’re offering now,” McClanahan said.

The growth is largely thanks to measures voters approved in a tax ratification election almost two years ago. The move gives the district $8.2 million more per year in state and local money, enabling any student to take dual-credit courses, he said.

And the growth is expected to continue into next year. The Legislature also moved to allow students to take dual-credit classes starting their freshman year, with no limit on the number of courses they could take, McClanahan said.

“With those things combined, we started having students who previously, if they didn’t qualify for a tuition waiver through MCC, they would just sit out unless parents had the extra money they could give them to take the class, which was not a lot of our students,” he said.

Before the extra tax money was approved, 50 students were taking dual-credit classes they paid for themselves. Now, 130 students who don’t qualify for the MCC tuition waiver are taking dual-credit classes, McClanahan said.

During the 2014-15 school year, 119 students took dual-credit in the fall and 103 took the classes in the spring. That has risen since, with 411 students taking dual-credit classes in the fall and 372 in the spring, district documents show. About 70 percent receive MCC tuition waivers, and Waco ISD covers the rest.

That much growth has helped revitalize the partnership MCC has with the district, MCC dual-credit director Londa Carriveau said via email.

Applications rising

About 410 students have already applied for the district’s Accelerate program in the 2017-18 school year, documents show. Accelerate is Waco ISD’s early degree program, giving students a chance to earn their associate degree and high school diploma at the same time through dual-credit courses, McClanahan said.

“Waco ISD has made significant progress in providing support for students enrolled in college courses,” Carriveau wrote. “The district provides tutoring software for the college placement exam, facilitators to monitor the students enrolled in online courses, orientation sessions for students coming to the MCC campus and those enrolling in the Accelerate program, just to name a few.”

Family savings

The Accelerate program can save a family $25,000 to $30,000, depending on the number of credit hours required, the Waco ISD website states.

“We have for a long time been trying to, as (school board President) Pat Atkins says, change the narrative about the district — that we have offerings for students, that we have strong programs,” McClanahan said. “Once the TRE passed, we could really tell students and tell families, ‘Hey, we will pay for your kid to take dual-credit classes if you find that’s financially not feasible for you to kick in.’ We’ll cover the books, we’ll pay for the tuition so we could get your child some college hours accrued before they ever leave the door from high school.”

More than 20 hours

Isaac Arterburn, a Waco High School senior who started dual-credit courses last year, said had he known about the opportunities earlier in his high school career, he would have jumped on the bandwagon sooner. Taking three courses this year, he has earned more than 20 college credit hours.

Now when he sees freshmen or sophomores in dual-credit courses he never had the opportunity to take, it even makes him a bit envious, he said.

“One of the things it shows us is when the word gets out and it’s not bad, people understand what we have to offer and how successful our kids are being with those programs, it gives them reason to bring their kids back and not pay the extra to send them to private school,” McClanahan said. “The success rate is the other big thing. We’re looking at passing rates that are higher than most of our regular academic classes, and these are kids that are all the way down to freshmen. . . . I would really challenge people who say our kids somehow can’t because we’re the city district, because this shows they can.”

Shelly Conlon has covered K-12 education for the Tribune-Herald since July 2016. Prior to the Tribune-Herald, she was the managing editor for the Waxahachie Daily Light, and an intern for the Corpus Christi Caller-Times.

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