Advancing College & Careers

High school students pursue SFCC’s dual enrollment program in record numbers

For as long as she can remember, Capital High School freshman Eliana Benavidez knew she wanted to work in the medical field.

“I was always asking questions,” Benavidez reminisces. “When I got my tonsils taken out, I wanted to see my tonsils.”

The surgeon who removed them agreed, but said the request was unusual. To Benavidez, it seemed natural: “I was just curious,” she tells SFR.

That curiosity led Benavidez to seek out health care career programs at Santa Fe Public Schools, including joining the summer “Scrub Club” as an elementary school student to partake in medical science activities and pursuing the Medical Sciences Pathway that Capital offers to streamline more high school students into medical careers.

Now, she and her mother are looking into pursuing Santa Fe Community College’s dual enrollment classes, which give high school students both high school and college credits at the same time.

Benavidez’s career interest is common among high school students—at SFCC, the two most popular areas of study among dual credit students are film and health care, with nearly a quarter of dual credit students currently enrolled in one of these programs.

“One big advantage of taking dual credit is to get started early and advance more quickly to a degree or certificate,” SFCC Dual Credit Specialist Niki McKay told students and parents at a Nov. 2 information session. “The other advantage is just practice—experience taking a college class.”

SFCC provides an extensive catalog of dual credit courses, encompassing not only general education classes like algebra, biology and English, but a variety of courses under majors at the school such as criminal justice, creative arts, automotive and computer science, among others. The list of dual credit courses currently available at SFCC is 13 pages long.

Dual credit has become more popular with high school students this year, according to SFCC Director of Student Engagement and Recruitment Marcos Maez. About 20% of the college’s total enrollment this semester are dual credit students, he reports, and the number of dual credit students enrolled increased 23% from the 2022 fall semester.

“Currently, we are experiencing our highest-ever fall semester enrollment of dual credit students in SFCC’s history, with 880 students registered,” Maez tells SFR. “Equally noteworthy is the diversity among our dual credit students…81% of dual credit students are students of color.”

The community college waives tuition and regular service fees from dual credit classes to be more accessible, and the enrolled student’s high school pays for textbooks. Students are, however, responsible for course-specific fees, such as lab or distance-learning fees.

Janet Aboytes, a college counselor at Capital, says she advises students who are unsure of their career goals to test the waters with general education courses.

Both McKay and Aboytes emphasized that dual enrollment is a “big investment of time” for high school students, as community college classes cannot conflict with the students’ classes at Capital. Students will have an easier time managing this schedule if they take some of the dual enrollment classes held in Capital’s building, Aboytes told students.

“We want you to take college classes if you’re ready, get your career going, get ahead, but keep in mind that we also have dual credit classes here [at Capital]—the early childhood class, entrepreneurship, computer science,” Aboytes said.

McKay advised that students talk with her and Aboytes about what would best suit their schedules—online classes, evening classes or summer classes. She and Aboytes work as intermediaries between students and their classes, helping students adjust to navigating college courses independently.

Despite being in her first semester of high school, Benavidez already has an idea of the classes she wants to focus on—forensic sciences.

“I’ve been interested in [forensic pathology] and have been studying it a lot. It really stands out to me,” Benavidez says.

Benavidez elaborates that she wants to be a medical examiner—to her, the job would be about “giving people who have died of the chance to be remembered and recognized.”

Maez says SFCC dedicates itself to having a “meaningful impact” on dual credit students to help give them head starts on earning degrees and certificates, and success rates for dual credit students at the college are high: about 86% of dual credit students at SFCC receive a grade of C or higher in their college classes, according to Maez.

“This number underscores the commitment and dedication of our dual credit students,” Maez says. “It is becoming a common sight to see dual credit students walking in our commencement ceremonies, receiving certificates, and in some rare instances, degrees.”

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