Three Ball High School seniors will walk twice this graduation season: first on Friday at the Galveston College commencement ceremony where they’ll receive their associate degrees, then again on May 30 when they’ll be handed their high school diplomas.
Elizabeth Donlon, Emmy Vazquez and Jonathan Henry all will be eligible to take junior level classes at the universities they’ll enter next year — Donlon at Texas Tech University, Vazquez at University of Houston-Clear Lake and Henry at Dillard University, a historically black university in New Orleans — after completing 60 credit hours of college classes while finishing their high school requirements.
“It was very hard,” Henry said. “I remember completing my first semester’s work at Galveston College, all the essays and writing papers and exams, and it really sunk in.
“I realized I’d taken this first step without any assistance. I had put in the work. I did the studying and nobody forced me to do it. I knew I wanted to do it because I knew that it would come around and make a difference.”
The obvious difference will be the ability to graduate from a four-year institution of higher learning with a bachelor’s degree in just two years, saving significant time and money. The less obvious difference was being held to high academic standards and building confidence through succeeding, all three students agreed.
Donlon started taking dual-credit classes during her junior year in high school, switching out of Advanced Placement because dual-credit courses guaranteed college credit for courses passed rather than requiring a minimum score on a subject-area test.
“Next year at Texas Tech, I’ll be an incoming junior transfer student and a freshman,” Donlon said. “I’ll graduate in two years and after that I want to go to veterinary school.”
Henry plans to study psychology and music to become a music therapist and Vazquez is considering becoming a doctor.
Vazquez, who is graduating from both Ball High and Galveston College in just two years, said she was motivated by her father, Ruben Vazquez, who did the research on taking dual-credit courses, and her older brother, who graduated early from Sam Houston State University with a degree in psychology and is now a high school history teacher.
“Education is most important for all young people,” Ruben Vazquez said. “I’m confident it makes them better citizens, and makes better families and communities.”
Taking dual-credit courses helped prepare her well for college, Emmy Vazquez said.
“It pushes you a bit more,” she said. “The classes are more challenging than a regular class, and you have to put in the effort to study by yourself or in a study group. In the long run, it’s very important to learn to manage your time well.”
To qualify for dual-credit courses as a high school student, potential applicants first meet with a community or junior college dual-credit advisor who helps the with the application, registration and course selection processes and who also makes sure the student is approved to take college-level courses by their parents and by a designated institution official like a guidance counselor, said Joseph Bernard, director of educational services at Galveston College.
Ball High School partners with Galveston College, but dual-credit programs are in place at high schools throughout the county with classes available through College of the Mainland.
Students can take classes at their high schools, online or on their chosen community college campuses.
“Dual-credit courses offer students the same rigor, relevance and curriculum that traditional Galveston College students would see in their own courses on campus,” Bernard said.
Dual credit has been around for 20 years, and 600 students at the partner institutions Galveston College serves took courses over the 2018-19 academic year, Bernard said. Many earn credits toward their associate’s degree, but few complete enough credits to earn high school diplomas and associate’s degrees at the same time like Donlon, Vazquez and Henry.
Students enrolled in the dual-credit program at Galveston College have access to a number of opportunities that can help pay tuition for courses, Bernard said.