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.

Eligibility Criteria: Students must meet the following eligibility criteria:

  • be enrolled in a Massachusetts public secondary school or nonpublic school, including home school;
  • meet all course prerequisites per the policies of the participating campus;
  • be a Massachusetts resident;
  • may not have earned a GED or high school diploma; and
  • have a minimum cumulative 2.5 high school GPA*

* If a student’s GPA is below the 2.5 GPA threshold then the student must submit a recommendation letter from their high school guidance counselor, teacher, or principal. Home schooled students should submit a letter from their parent or guardian

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