Faith Hart never imagined she would attend college.
That changed during her sophomore year at LaVergne High School when Faith was told she had the grades and the scores to enroll in the school's new Dual Enrollment Academy, a program that allows students to earn college credits from two different universities while in high school.
Now a senior, Faith will graduate in May with 30 college credits under her belt and plans to continue at Motlow State Community College through the Tennessee Promise program.
"These dual enrollment classes taught me that I am smart, I can do what I want to do and go to college to be what I want to be," Faith said.
She isn't alone. During the past two years, students in the school's Dual Enrollment Academy have earned nearly 4,000 college credit hours. The school has partnerships with Middle Tennessee State University and the University of the Cumberlands that allow students to complete the courses at a low cost.
Daniel Pledger is another senior in the program. He will graduate in May with 26 college hours and has applied to the University of Tennessee at Knoxville to study engineering.
"I think it's very beneficial to start off in high school getting prepared for college, having that college work and that college work ethic," Pledger said. "Also it's very affordable compared to college. It costs us little to nothing. The school gets it to us for almost free."
Students can enroll into the academy starting their junior year if they meet the grade requirements. They then can access a dual enrollment grant through the Tennessee Hope Scholarship program for their first two classes, Graduation Coach Terry Campbell said. After those first two courses, the school has negotiated heavily discounted class fees with the universities so that students can continue with other college courses.
The program has proven to be wildly successful and popular with students. Approximately 25% of juniors and seniors at LaVergne are participating in the academy, Campbell said.
"There are 265 students enrolled in dual enrollment classes and last year we had 1,269 hours that were taken by the students," Campbell said. "This year, it's over 2,700, and we more than doubled in a year's time, which thrills me to no end."
Senior Sydney Leibfritz enjoys the rigor of the college-level courses and plans to use the momentum to double major in English and political science once she enters college.
"I like the environment of the class," Sydney said. "It feels more difficult than other classes here by far and it's great to prepare for college."
When she graduates in May, Sydney will have earned 28 college credits and has applied to several schools, including Yale and Sewanee.
Campbell says the program also helps students become more accustomed to completing college applications and financial aid forms, which can be intimating for high school students who don't have experience doing so.
"They have to fill out an application for both colleges, and of course with MTSU, they have to apply for the dual grant and register for classes," she explained. "It's a lot like going to college but there's still someone here to help them go through the process."
For more information about the LaVergne High School Dual Enrollment Academy, contact the school at 615-904-3870. The school also has established a scholarship fund to aid students who have trouble paying the course fees for dual enrollment classes. Those interested in making a tax-deductible donation to the fund should contact the bookkeeper at the school.