ANDERSON – Sitting near the front of the classroom, Liberty Christian School student Taylor Webber had a near running dialogue with Ivy Tech Community College algebra instructor Duane Wolfe.

“Where did you get that ‘y’ from?” she asked.

“I could have picked any letter, if I wanted to. I could have picked a smiley face, if I wanted to,” he said. 

It was Presidents Day, and the rest of their schoolmates were out of class. But juniors Webber, Spencer Stahl and their 13 other classmates at Liberty Christian School were in their dual credit algebra class, just as they are every other Monday and Wednesday. That’s because Ivy Tech, which sends teacher Duane Wolfe to Liberty Christian to teach Math 136, doesn’t take the day off for that holiday.

According to the Indiana Commission for Higher Education, about 51 percent of Madison County students are earning college credit while still in high school.

By comparison, about two-thirds of Hoosier students have earned college credit by the time they graduate from high school, according to commission statistics. That, commission officials said, represents a 15 percent increase over four years.

“Our most recent data indicate that high school students are not only earning more early college credit than ever, but the credit they earn in high school is actually leading to higher success rates and cost savings for students and the state,” Indiana Commissioner for Higher Education Teresa Lubbers said in a prepared statement. “We have also seen evidence that dual credit participation can play a crucial role in closing achievement gaps for low-income and minority students.”

In fact, Webber, 17, and Stahl, 16, each expect to have at least one year of college completed before they matriculate. They each already took high school algebra but said the dual credit class was an advanced version of what they already had.

According to commission statistics, dual credit earning rates have increased by double digits among students from all demographic backgrounds. In addition, black and Hispanic students who earn advanced credit are more than twice as likely to graduate from college on time, compared to those who don’t.

About one-third of dual credits are earned by students who are eligible for free or reduced-fee lunch, a measure of poverty, the commission reported. Because students are able to earn these credits at no direct cost to them, the average cost savings is about $1,600 per student over the course of a post-secondary education.

The algebra class is the fifth dual credit course taken by Webber, who plans to start at Ivy Tech to keep costs lower and transfer to Indiana University later. Webber said she researched the possibility of taking the advanced classes because it boosts her high school grade point average, and she will be more prepared for the rigors of college once she goes.

“It’s a heavier workload. It’s harder work,” she said.

Stahl said he expects to graduate a year early in 2020. In fact, at this point, he said he’s taking mostly college-level courses.

“It’s more challenging than the high school level class, but I can do it,” he said.

He figures between that and the college credits he will have earned in high school, he will save $40,000 in out-of-state tuition when he attends the University of California Berkeley. Basically, Stahl said, he is getting requirements out of the way so he can jump into the subject matter classes for his chemical engineering major.

Wolfe, who has been a full-time faculty member at Ivy Tech for about 10 years, said last fall was his first experience as a faculty member on loan to Liberty Christian, where he taught finite math. Larger schools, such as Anderson High School, may have their own master teachers who are specially trained to teach dual credit courses.

“Almost all of these students were in that class, so they are familiar with me,” he said.

The partnership helps Ivy Tech build a relationship with the high school and maybe encourage Liberty Christian students to enroll there, Wolfe said. 

“Hopefully, if it’s not these kids, maybe someone walking down the hallway sees me and the name tag,” he said.

Wolfe admitted there are some differences between teaching high school and college students.

“The students in this class are less likely to have a full-time outside job or a family they are trying to support,” he said. “These guys are pretty well dedicated.”

Liberty Christian counselor Tish Respondek said she has personal experience with the benefits of dual credit courses through her daughter, a student at Anderson University.

“Getting a year of college done ahead was a huge asset for us,” she said.

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