Dual enrollment’ programs—where students attend both high school and college—are gaining in popularity as college costs soar.
At just 24 years old, Haleigh Funk Butler already has seven years of professional experience in nursing. At 17, she started training at Culpeper Community Hospital in Culpeper, Virginia, and then worked at a family practice in nearby Warrenton. At 19, she became a registered nurse. For the past four and a half years, she’s worked in the medical-surgical unit at the Novant Health–UVA Health System Culpeper Medical Center.
“Patients look at me and think I’m 16 years old,” Funk Butler said. “They say, ‘Hold up! How long have you been doing this?’ I tell them I’ve been a nurse for 7 years.”
What gave Funk Butler the head start in her career was a “dual enrollment” program at Eastern View High School in Culpeper, which prepared her to become a licensed practical nurse (LPN) at the same time she was earning her diploma. Funk Butler took her LPN exam the month before her high school graduation in 2011 and then immediately landed the job in Warrenton, where she worked full-time while pursuing her RN license at Germanna Community College in Locust Grove. She continued to work and study and eventually earned a bachelor’s degree in nursing last year from the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Virginia.
“If I had gone the traditional route, I would only have been a nurse for two years or maybe three years by now,” Funk Butler said. “I feel like I’m in a much more mature state than other people I know who are still struggling to find that job as a career.”
Best of all, Funk Butler is debt free. “I was lucky that my parents had a little bit of a college fund for me, but I didn’t even really break into that at all,” said Funk Butler. “I have no school debt—nothing.”
Dual enrollment programs—aimed at giving high school students a leg up on college—have been around since the 1950s. But with growing worries both about soaring college costs and whether the price of college is worth the returns in job and earnings opportunities, dual enrollment has surged in popularity as a way for students to save both time and money towards a college degree, earn a credential with immediate value in the job market—or both.