Dual enrollment pays large dividends for local high school students
Great Falls High senior Madi Nowakowski will graduate from high school this spring with 54 credits thanks to dual enrollment.
GREAT FALLS, Mont. – It doesn't take a lot of detective work to find the benefits of taking college classes while in high school, according to Great Falls High senior Madi Nowakowski who will graduate with 54 college credits when she finishes high school this spring.
"It's really helpful, especially if you want to go to college in Montana after graduation," she said. "At least get your core requirements done. It will save you so much time and A LOT of money. Like a lot, especially if you can get scholarships. I'm on scholarships, and I'm not paying for my classes. The only thing I sometimes pay for is textbooks."
Nowakowski isn't exactly sure of her plans immediately after high school as she is looking at some military options, but she is certain she wants to someday work as a police officer and eventually an FBI agent.
She also is certain the college credits she has taken as a dual-enrollment student through Great Falls College MSU while at Great Falls High have put her ahead of most of her peers.
Teagan Sowers, a 2018 C.M. Russell graduate who finished with a welding certificate from Great Falls College before graduating CMR, also said dual-enrollment jump-started his career with Loenbro, and the 21-year-old already has purchased a home.
And Sydnee Spielmann, who graduated GFH in 2018, is set to graduate as a respiratory therapist from Great Falls College this spring after getting a head start by taking most of her prerequisites to get into the respiratory therapy program while in high school.
"Dual enrollment offers outstanding opportunities for students like Teagan and Sydnee who know what they want in life at an early age and are able to get into the career track well ahead of their peers, but it also is a great way for high school students like Madi to take classes that can fulfill general education requirements that will save them money once they go to college," said Shannon Marr, director of recruitment and enrollment at Great Falls College.
"We have students from all over the region who are taking advantage of these opportunities and getting ahead in all modalities: online, in-person on our campus or on their high school campuses."
Through the One-Two-Free program, the first two classes for dual enrollment classes are free.
"Making it even more attractive is the Montana University System offers the first two classes to Montana high school students free of charge," Marr said. "And additional credits at Great Falls College are just $57 each, which is much less expensive than is typical."
Marr also pointed out dual-enrollment students are 16 percent more likely to return to college after their first year.
Nowakowski takes dual-enrollment to a whole new level.
She said it started with an American Sign Language class at Great Falls High her sophomore year that was offered dual enrollment, so she looked into it. Since he was only 15, her counselor had to sign off on it.
"That's what started it," she said. "And then I started looking to take my high school classes as dual enrollment."
This past semester at Great Falls College, she took Intro to Psychology, Intro to Ethics, Intro to Criminal Justice and Basic MS Office on top of her high school load that includes three college classes: AP English, AP Government and a math class. She plans to do the same in the spring semester.
Nowakowski does all that in addition to working about 20 hours a week at a Double Barrel Coffee House Café, participating in Junior ROTC, Montana Education Talent Search and Strive 4 Success with United Way of Cascade County.
Strive 4 Success is a pilot program that is part of United Way's Graduation Matters initiative that aims to help students who will be the first in their family to go to college and possibly had other barriers to graduating high school and attaining higher education, according to United Way's website. Strive has set Nowakowski up with a mentorship through the Great Falls Police Department
When she first learned of Strive 4 Success, her reaction was immediate: "Where do I sign?"
Through Talent Search and Strive, Nowakowski has visited numerous campuses and participated in college fairs in addition to the education she is receiving in both high school and at Great Falls College.
"I've had some really great instructors," Nowakowski said. "They all have been really kind and understanding, and I try my best in their classes. With everything I have going on, I'm not exactly an A student. I'm more of a B average right now. My teachers are very aware of everything and really understanding and kind."
Sowers, who completed his welding program before he even graduated high school, said dual-enrollment helped him when he was about to start looking into the job market.
"Loenbro actually called me, and I started right after (high school graduation)," he said.
He feels the classes he took at Great Falls College while at CMR – finishing up his high school classes at about 10 a.m. and then heading up to Great Falls College – gave him an advantage.
"It's a great step to getting in the door," he said. "If there is someone who has the same background-ish, but they haven't gone to school for it, it might be a little harder for them to get their foot in the door."
Sowers mostly works as a welder for Loenbro on pipe projects for places such as Calumet Refinery and a couple of hemp distilleries in northcentral montana.
Eventually, he wants to be an independent welding contractor.
For now, the 21-year-old already has been in the workforce for about 2.5 years and has purchased a home in Great Falls that he is remodeling.
"It's definitely a good feeling going through school and getting directly in to the workforce," he said. "You don't have student debt. People are usually in their junior or senior year right now working a part-time job still."
Becoming a specialist
Spielmann knew respiratory therapy intrigued her when she watched her grandfather on a ventilator before he passed when she was younger, so she started taking the prerequisites for Great Falls College's program while at Great Falls High.
"I took my pre-reqs through Great Falls College, but I took them at Great Falls High, so I was kind of taking college and high school at the same time," she said.
She finished up the few remaining prerequisite courses right after high school and then applied for the college's respiratory therapy program and was accepted into the two-year program.
"I feel like taking dual credit was really helpful for me because I'm graduating a year ahead of my friends," Spielmann said. "It feels pretty good because I can start my career at a really young age."
Registration for Great Falls College's spring semester closes Jan. 6, so call admissions now to learn more at 406-268-3700. Classes begin Jan. 11.
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