For a high school student living on the Westside of the Central Valley, college can be as near as the next classroom—right in their high school—in a course taught by a college professor.

Or it can be on their computer at home in an online course offered to them by their local community college. Or it can be a short drive from their home to their local community college campus.

These opportunities are available now to students in high schools in Los Banos, Dos Palos and Firebaugh—in a  program called dual enrollment, offered by both Merced and West Hills Colleges.

In many cases these college courses also fulfill high school requirements providing dual credit. And dual enrollment is available to ALL high school students, not just a select few, and not just seniors. And no placement test is involved.

The challenge is that most high school students, and their parents, don’t know about this opportunity. But they could. All they have to do is talk with their high school counselor. And once they take a college course they can begin talking with a local college counselor.

“Dual enrollment should not be a ‘best kept secret,’’’ said Ben Duran, executive director of the Central Valley Higher Education Consortium, which consists of 30 colleges and universities from Stockton to Bakersfield.

Duran, who spent many hours of his youth working in the fields near Planada, believes every high school student in the Central Valley should have a college opportunity, and he says in most cases that opportunity can start right in high school.

“When I was the superintendent of the LeGrand Union High School district in the 1980’s,” Duran said, “I saw many students who were bright and talented but who didn’t believe that college was for them. Their parents hadn’t attended college, so college wasn’t a part of their background.

“Back then,” he continued, “they didn’t have the opportunity for dual enrollment. Now every high school student on the Westside has that opportunity,” Duran said. “Both West Hills and Merced Colleges have been leaders in the state in providing dual enrollment.

“I would like all students (and their parents) in high schools in Los Banos, Dos Palos, Firebaugh and Santa Nella to know about this terrific opportunity,” Duran added. “I’m hoping that everyone who reads this article in the Westside Express tells their family members and friends about dual enrollment.”

The best place to find out about dual enrollment is by talking with high school counselors, all of whom are familiar with the dual enrollment concept. Each high school, along with its partner community college, has its own processes and procedures for dual enrollment.

Duran believes there are two things he’d like to see every high school student consider when thinking about dual enrollment: identifying a tentative career goal or path and then fulfilling their college English and math requirements before leaving high school.

“It would be great if high school students, beginning in their freshman year, would start thinking about what career they’d like,” Duran said. “A friend of mine suggests they think about their ‘dream job.’

“Then they should explore what education is needed to have a well-paying job in this career,” he said. “In almost all cases today a job that earns enough to support a person and her or his family requires some sort of college education leading to a certificate or a degree. It may not require four years of college, or even two.

“Then, along with their parents and high school counselor,” he added, “high school students need to map out what college courses are needed for that career and start looking at what college courses on this path are available to them in high school.

“I particularly recommend,” Duran said, “that whatever path high school students choose, they fulfill their English and math requirement before graduating from high school. Once students have these two requirements out of the way, all kinds of doors are open to them, immediately and down the road.”

Both Merced and West Hills Colleges, along with their partner high schools, plan to provide more information to students and parents on the Westside of the Central Valley about dual enrollment opportunities soon.