With annual tuition ranging between just under $9,000 to over $23,000, attending a public, 4-year college or university in Virginia can add up quickly for students and their families. In Goochland County Public Schools, students can earn up to 60 credit hours before graduation in the division’s Advance College Academy (ACA) – greatly reducing the steep cost of a college degree.
Wendi McDonnell, parent of Ryan, a 2021 Goochland High School graduate, ACA participant, and now Virginia Tech student, did the math. “I totaled up all the money we spent for ACA, starting with the summer courses before junior year, and all told, we spent a mere $2,630 out of our own pocket for a $22,038.75 value, which saves the family $19,408.75 in tuition – that's 1.45 years/3 semesters worth of tuition! That is a lot of money!” McDonnell’s son used his ACA credits to satisfy all 45 Pathways courses, Tech’s required prerequisites to graduate, and arrived at her total savings by using Tech’s $489.75 per credit cost.
Beyond cost, McDonnell says her son’s benefits extend far beyond tuition savings. Ryan attends Tech’s College of Engineering and is majoring in Computer Science. Because of his major, some of the credits he earned at ACA are not transferrable for his major requirements. But, she says, “from a growth and well-rounded student standpoint, those ‘unusable-to-him’ credits exposed him to classes that he probably would never have chosen for himself, including psychology and advanced English courses.
“The experience of this was so good for him. He loved all the psychology courses and would share his research with the whole family at the dinner table every night, and, while he didn't necessarily love literature in and of itself, he enjoyed Ms. Holloway-Costa's class immensely and admitted that he read books that he would never have picked up, ever,” she said.
Students apply to ACA in the eighth grade. If accepted, students enroll in advanced high school courses in the ninth and tenth grades and take required college coursework for the associate degree during the eleventh and twelfth grades. Students in the ACA program must also attend a three-week session of college courses during the summer between their sophomore and junior year.
ACA is a partnership between GCPS and Reynolds Community College and is open to students with a 3.0- grade-point average or higher who have taken Algebra I by the ninth grade. Courses are taught by certified Goochland High School teachers and include the same content as courses taught on the community college campus. “In ACA, students are able to take rigorous college courses in a supportive environment,” Beth Fowler, Ed.D., Coordinator of Advanced Programs and Equity, said. “They can earn a 60-credit associate degree prior to high school graduation, and then they have more options when they attend a four-year college.” Options include graduating early, double majoring, taking a lighter load each semester, or studying abroad.
“We cannot express our appreciation and gratitude to the school board for making programs like this possible, for the leadership in implementing it and making it happen, and for all the teachers at GHS that are now college instructors teaching these classes,” McDonnell said.
For more information about ACA or the other programs GCPS offers to students to maximize their potential, visit https://goochlandschools.org.