Jul 20, 2018 at 12:00am ET By Joanna Hughes

As crushing college loan debt continues to cripple American students and their families, many are taking creative measures to trim costs. One increasingly popular tactic, according to a recent USA Today report? Early college programs.

College...But In High School?

For many college students, the thought of cutting their college tuition costs in half sounds like a dream. But it’s very much a reality for a new breed of enterprising high school students taking advantage of early college programs, which allow them to take college classes during their third and fourth years of high school -- thereby potentially halving their time in college and the tuition bills that would accompany it.

Says early college course instructor Maria Beggs, “Early college education is growing more popular by the year. If students follow the required track, they may be able to graduate from high school with their (associate’s) degree or just transfer to a university as a freshman with junior standing.”

Improving Access, Too

According to insiders, early college schools cost less money than other pre-college programs for high schoolers, such as dual enrollment programs and community college course. This is a particular benefit to disadvantaged students. “That makes a huge difference for low-income students and students underrepresented in higher education...They don’t have to overcome the hurdles. They’ve been removed,” asserts Jobs for the Future (JFF) vice president of school and learning design Joel Vargas.

According to university admissions officers, , early college students not only stand out during the admissions process because of their proven ability to handle the work and responsibilities, but are often awarded scholarships.

All of which begs the question: What do students have to say about their early college experiences? Raves early college alumna Meghana Iragavarapu, who now attends a top-ranked US university, “Early college gave me the privilege of time and resources to figure out what makes me tick before between thrown into an institution filled with an overwhelming number of opportunities.”

Joanna worked in higher education administration for many years at a leading research institution before becoming a full-time freelance writer. She lives in the beautiful White Mountains region of New Hampshire with her family.

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