It may be one of Massachusetts’ best-kept secrets: a program that lets students earn college credit even before they earn their high school diplomas, while at the same time shaving thousands of dollars off the cost of a college degree.

The Commonwealth Dual Enrollment Partnership (CDEP) established by the legislature in 2008 allows high school students to enroll in college courses. The state-subsidized program gives students a true taste of college – and research shows that students who participate in dual enrollment programs are better prepared to succeed academically once they arrive on campus post-high school.

All Massachusetts public undergraduate campuses, including the state’s fifteen community colleges, 9 state universities and four UMass campuses – offer the dual enrollment option. At Middlesex Community College, for example, students can take classes on line, during the day, in the evening or on weekends at the College’s Lowell and Bedford campuses.

“It gave me a chance to try out college without feeling overwhelmed, dealing with feeding myself and roommate problems,’’ said Miranda Cashman, who earned an associate’s degree from Middlesex while still a high school student. “I got to take it in stages and it worked perfect for me.’’

Cashman will continue her studies at UMass Amherst in the fall, having won acceptance to the prestigious Commonwealth Honors College. At Middlesex, students pay $87 per credit, about half of what students in the general population pay. Students like Cashman can significantly reduce the cost of a college degree by enrolling in dual enrollment programs before transferring to a four-year college or university.

To qualify, a student must be:

  • a Massachusetts resident;
  • be enrolled in a Massachusetts public or private high school or home school;
  • take a placement test to gauge readiness for college level work;
  • have a minimum cumulative 3.0 high school GPA, and
  • may not have earned a GED or high school diploma.

Students who do not have a cumulative 3.0 high school GPA may still qualify for dual enrollment based upon demonstration of their potential for academic success. Students who are interested in the program should contact their guidance counselor or the public campus nearest to their home for more information. While student participation in the program is at the discretion of each campus, most welcome the participation of dual enrollment students.

For more information, please visit www.mass.edu/dualenrollment.

This post was produced by the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education, a collaborative partner of Future Ready Massachusetts.