More and more high school students are discovering they can earn college credit by taking classes offered by local community colleges for free.
The Inland Empire has lagged behind the state and nation on enrolling high school students in college courses, usually referred to as dual enrollment, but thanks to the efforts of Chaffey College and other local community colleges, we're closing the gap.
"In the past, there were never more than 100 students a semester enrolled," said Matthew Morin, Chaffey College's director of Adult Education High School Partnerships. "Within the last year, we've grown that 700 percent."
For years, community colleges in California have opened their campuses to high school students, and they have also offered courses on high school campuses.
However, those in-school courses are taught after hours because state law requires community colleges to open their classes to everyone, and random adults walking around high school campuses during school hours raise security concerns.
In 2015, the state adopted a law allowing community colleges to partner with school districts to offer college level classes on campus during school hours without having to open them to the public.
Chaffey College struck an agreement to host such classes in the Chino Valley Unified School District last year, and the college is working to secure agreements with other school districts as well.
Dual enrollment helps many students (and their parents) save thousands of dollars by allowing the students to earn college credits for courses that will transfer to most University of California and California State University Schools in addition to counting toward their high school diplomas.
Even so, it's not a widely known program.
"When we present this to parents, their minds are blown," Morin said. "They are like, 'Wait, this is really going to count for both high school and college credit?'"
Chaffey College steers first-time dual enrollment students to a course called Career Exploration and Planning, which is taught by college counselors who can help students chart their college and careers.
"Many college students graduate with more credits than they need, and they tap out of financial aid because of it," Morin said. "We want to make sure every course a student takes leads somewhere."
In addition to classes taught in classrooms, Chaffey and other community colleges also allow students to enroll in online courses.
Los Osos High School student Quinn Hannah, 17, has earned credits for two English classes and a physics course through Chaffey College, and he is working on earning more.
"I definitely think any high school student who is interested in dual enrollment or earning extra college credits outside of the AP (Advanced Placement) classes offered at their high school should take the opportunity to dual enroll," he said. "It may be intimidating to take a college class while in high school, but if you manage your time well, it can only help by improving your chances of getting into a college as well as saving your money once you are there."
Meanwhile, students can also earn Associate Degrees and Technical Certificates through the California Career Technical Education classes like the ones Chaffey College offers in the Fontana Unified School District.
(San Bernardino County Supervisor Janice Rutherford represents the 2nd District, which includes part of Fontana. This article originally appeared in "The Rutherford Report.")