Planning for the future

Planning for the future

Taking college classes while in high school a smart move for many

By Julie Gerke
Photo : The Source/Julie Gerke

Meredith and Joe Gallo are sister and brother. They both take classes at Lincoln Land Community College and plan to attend to a four-year university.

Joe Gallo, 20, is a full-time LLCC student who plans to study civil engineering at SIU-Edwardsville. Meredith Gallo, 18, is a senior at Jacksonville High School who wants to study criminology at Lindenwood University in St. Charles, Missouri.

Meredith Gallo is enrolled part-time at LLCC through “College Now,” a program that lets high school students take college-level courses, earning credits that will transfer to another community college or to a university. By the time she enters Lindenwood, she will have earned 12 college credit hours from four classes: public speaking, psychology, math and sociology.

Sixteen JHS students enrolled at LLCC last fall, and 21 are enrolled this semester, said JHS school counselor Sherri McLaughlin. Already, almost 30 students are interested in the program for next fall.

Almost 50 students from Beardstown High School take College Now classes at Lincoln Land’s Beardstown site, said Keri Mason, director of LLCC’s Jacksonville and Beardstown campuses.

It’s common for incoming freshmen, or “first time in college” students, to enter a four-year university with some credits already under their belt. At Illinois State University in Normal, for instance, 1,596 of the 3,983 freshmen enrolled last fall “brought in some kind of college level credit,” said university spokesman Eric Jome.

College Now students pay regular LLCC tuition of $137 and fees of $16 per credit hour, plus books, but aren’t eligible for college-level scholarships. They must make time for both college and high school classes, find their own transportation to and from LLCC’s downtown Jacksonville campus for their afternoon classes, decide whether to continue participating in extracurricular activities, and may or may not have jobs.

That balancing act may mean restructuring for some students, finding an outside source for tuition help or just realizing that enjoying senior year should be just that.

That’s where early discussions among students, parents, and high school and college counselors are key, because what’s right for one family may not be right for another. Also, while one class per semester may be right for one student, another might be OK with two.

“Not every student is on a four-year [degree] path,” said Lori Large Oldenettel, enrollment coordinator at LLCC’s Jacksonville and Beardstown campuses.

College, after all, is different than high school. Meredith Gallo, involved in J’ettes, football cheer squad, outside dance classes and spring soccer, maintains a spot on the JHS high honor roll. She said Lincoln Land classes are laid back, but instructors outline goals at the beginning of the semester and, “It’s on you to finish on time and show up.”

Moving from high school to college is “a definite shift,” agreed Mason.

Meredith Gallo likes the smaller classes, which give her a chance to build relationships with her teachers. Since several of her JHS classmates also take LLCC classes, she sometimes finds herself in a class with a mix of people she knows and people she doesn’t.

For the Gallo family, having Joe and Meredith choose similar yet different college paths comes naturally: father Tom Gallo attended LLCC himself after a job change; mom Kelly, now a teacher, was considered a “non-traditional” student at Illinois College when she started in her late 20s.

Meredith Gallo is “really organized and dedicated and she knows what she has to do,” Kelly Gallo said, so the couple wasn’t too worried about how their daughter would balance high school and college classes. The LLCC classes are eight weeks each, so students can take classes consecutively, rather than concurrently.

Still, the family spent a lot of time talking about College Now before Meredith Gallo enrolled, and Kelly Gallo agreed discussions among family and with counselors are important.

Depending how a student plans to pay for college (loans, family gifts, jobs), taking general education requirement classes at a community college can save a significant amount of money. For a student enrolled for 12 credit hours at Illinois State, Illinois families pay $359.47 per credit hour plus $79.46 per credit hour in fees. Insurance, special fees, and room and board all are extra.

Building up credit hours in advance of university enrollment also gives students the opportunity to take a lower course load during semesters in which classes may be more complex, to explore a wider variety of class offerings, graduate a semester early, or save money that could later be applied toward an advanced degree or specialized certification.

“They’re saving money on the front end to spend on the back end,” Oldenettel said.

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