Dual-credit ag classes give high school students head start

December 1, 2010

Lebanon High School teacher Byron L. Ernest works with students in a chemistry-of-digestion lab earlier this year in the Advance Life Sciences-Animals course, which students take to earn three Purdue University credits. (Purdue Agricultural Communication photo/Tom Campbell)

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WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. –  Attention high school agriculture students: Thinking of going to college? Take a class now. Earn college credit. Why wait? 

It sounds like an advertisement, but consider it free advice that many are heeding.

Young people looking to get an early start on their college education are taking advantage of a statewide program that lets them enroll in college courses while still in high school and earn credit toward both a high school diploma and a college degree. Dual-credit courses also help to build confidence in students unsure of whether college is for them.

"Taking a dual-credit course motivates students to think about going on to college and realize that they could actually succeed in college," said John Graveel, interim associate dean of the Purdue University College of Agriculture and director of the college's Office of Academic Programs. The college offers dual-credit agriculture classes for high school students across the state.

Dual-credit classes in agriculture could be especially appealing following a report this year by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Purdue projecting that more jobs in agriculture and related occupations will be added annually through 2015 than there will be qualified graduates. Most of the jobs are expected to be in business and science occupations, with others in agriculture, forestry production, education, communication and government services.

Dual-credit courses offer a way for high school students to get a jump not only on their college education but also on their career, said Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett. State law since 2007 has required all high schools to offer at least two dual-credit courses.

"Dual-credit courses that deliver rigorous content and allow high school students to work toward their college degree are essential in preparing our students for college and career success," Bennett said.

In the Purdue Agriculture program, college-level classes are taught at the high school level by qualified high school teachers or college instructors during the regular school day. The classes count toward their high school diploma and, if they earn a grade of at least a C, toward a college degree. To receive college credit, they also must pay tuition for each class, although at a reduced rate.

"From a parent's perspective, this is great because it means fewer credit hours that their sons or daughters would have to take in college," Graveel said.

Purdue Agriculture's program has grown from 20 students in the 2007-08 academic year to 282 last year. Figures for this year are not yet available because participating high schools are not required to report their enrollments until January.

Forty-six high schools have committed to offering Purdue agriculture classes this school year, up from 38 last year. Among the more successful programs is at Lebanon High School, where students can take as many as three courses and a third of the students go on to Purdue.

Last year, 103 of 142 Lebanon students taking Advanced Life Science courses paid the tuition for Purdue credit. That increased to 174 students taking courses this year, and about 100 will pay the tuition for the dual credit.

"Even more important than that is to give them the chance to be in a college environment," said Byron L. Ernest, who heads the school system's agriculture department that he started in 2004. He teaches Purdue courses in animal science, botany and food science.

Ernest's work at Lebanon, which includes involving students in research projects that are published online for scientists worldwide to critique, earned him a $10,000 Agriscience Educator Award from the federal Christopher Columbus Fellowship Foundation this year. He also was selected as the 2010 Indiana Teacher of the Year, the first time an agriculture instructor was so recognized.

Student Rachel Vanausdall didn't have a specific career in mind when she signed up for Purdue's introductory class in animal science at Lebanon. Although she had been a volunteer at the Indianapolis Zoo and was interested in animals, she had never taken a class to study them. She soon was dissecting internal organs of pigs in a laboratory.

"I found it really fulfilling and satisfying," she said. "I got to apply what I was reading to what I was looking at in the lab."

Her lab work included studying how food is digested. Students chewed food and measured the resulting sugar content, learning that digestion with some foods begins in the mouth.

"We were able to compare the differences between the human body with those of other animals, which was very interesting," she said.

Vanausdall earned college credit for the course. She is now a freshman at Purdue, majoring in wildlife in the Department of Forestry and Natural Resources. She is considering a career as a wildlife biologist specializing in mammals.

Although Seth Edwards did not receive college credit for the two Purdue classes he took at Lebanon, he said they helped to prepare him for the challenges of college academics.

"It gave me a foreshadowing of what to expect in a college course," said Edwards, now a junior agricultural economics student at Purdue. "It put me at a big advantage when I got to college."
Writer:  Keith Robinson, 765-494-2722, robins89@purdue.edu

Sources:  John Graveel, 765-494-8060, jgraveel@purdue.edu
                   Byron L. Ernest, 317-979-0732, ernestb@leb.k12.in.us

Ag Communications: (765) 494-2722;
Keith Robinson, robins89@purdue.edu
Agriculture News Page

Participating high schools:
Attica High School
Benton Central Senior High School
Caston Senior High School
Clinton Central High School
Cloverdale High School
Danville High School
DeKalb High School
Eastbrook High School
Eastern Hancock High School
Emmerich Manual High School
Fairfield High School
Forest Park High School
Fountain Central High School
Franklin Community High School
Hamilton Southeastern High School
Heritage Hills High School
Jay County High School
John Glenn High School
Lanesville High School
Lebanon High School
Maconaquah High School
Madison Consolidated High School
Michigan City High School
North Harrison High School
North Lawrence Career Center
North Montgomery High School
North Putnam High School
Northeastern High School
Owen Valley High School
Paoli Jr. / Sr. High School
Pendleton Heights High School
Penn High School
Plymouth High School
Riverton Parke High School
Rushville Consolidated High School
Shakamak High School
South Newton High School
Tecumseh High School
Tri-County High School
Triton Central High School
Turkey Run High School
Union City Community High School
Warsaw High School/Warsaw Area Career Center
Wawasee High School
West Noble High School
Westview High School

Note to journalists: A list of highs schools offering Purdue agriculture classes appears at the bottom of this news release.