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UNG graduates high number of dual enrollment students this spring

High school senior Samantha Spinaci is one of 14 dual enrollment students at UNG who will earn an associate degree and a high school diploma in May.

The University of North Georgia (UNG) will graduate 14 dual enrollment students this spring, its highest number since the program was instituted.

The dual enrollment program, formerly known as Move On When Ready, provides for high school students who are earning dual credit by being enrolled at a participating high school or home study program in Georgia and a postsecondary institution in Georgia.

These students take college-level coursework for credit towards both high school graduation or home study completion and postsecondary requirements. The program is offered during all terms of the school year; fall, spring and summer semesters. Tuition, books and fees are all paid for by the state’s dual enrollment program.

Victoria Zappi, 18, from Dahlonega, Georgia, said she learned about dual enrollment in 2015 when she discovered only one foreign language class, Spanish, was offered at Lumpkin County High School. Zappi was interested in studying Chinese, and enrolled at UNG's Foreign Language Studies Academy (FSLA) in the summer before her sophomore year.

"Dual enrollment allowed me to take Chinese language classes at UNG, and also provide me with tutors who were native to China and taught me about the culture of the country as well, which meant a lot to me," Zappi said.

In 2017, Zappi was accepted to participate in the National Security Language Initiative for Youth, a study abroad program sponsored by the U.S. Department of State. Zappi visited China for six weeks, immersing herself in the language and culture of the country. She was accepted into the program again this year, one of 20 selected to spend a year in that country.

Zappi plans to continue her studies at UNG once she returns from China, as a double major in Chinese and international affairs, with the goal of attending graduate school at Georgetown University, because "I was told that's the best university to go to if you want a career in government."

Having travelled to China has "opened her eyes" to her pursuit of learning Chinese, she said.

"We really need to work better in communicating between our two countries," Zappi said. "I want to work at the United Nations or the State Department in order to make that happen."

Student participation in dual enrollment at UNG has climbed steadily, from a total of 532 in 2013—which includes fall 2013 and spring and summer 2014—when the university first began tracking students, to 1,100 just during fall 2018. Charles Bell, dual enrollment coordinator, says the increase can be attributed to a number of factors.

"Dual enrollment numbers have been rising all over the state, since Gov. Nathan Deal removed all the barriers," Bell said. "Most of the students in dual enrollment are taking advanced placement (AP) classes and high school equivalency classes in middle school, which accelerates the process."

Another factor is cost. Bell said a high school student in dual enrollment pays $160 for an associate degree, compared to the nearly $8,400 it would cost out-of-pocket. That $160 covers lab, modern language and graduation fees.

"It's a great deal for the students, and especially for the parents," Bell said. "The students get a fantastic education and a degree at a great price, and it puts them on a path to a bachelor's degree.

It was the opportunity to matriculate with older, more mature students that drew Samantha Spinaci to the dual enrollment program. The 17-year-old from Cumming, Georgia, is taking courses on the Cumming and Gainesville campuses and in May will graduate from UNG with an associate degree before she earns her high school diploma from West Forsyth High School.

"My father is from Ethiopia and my mother grew up in Brazil, so I knew more about the world than most of my peers when I was in middle school," Spinaci said. "I felt more mature than my classmates in that regard. I knew about dual enrollment back then and I began taking classes my sophomore year in high school."

Spinaci, who plans to be a writer in broadcast communications, also said she was grateful for the cost savings toward earning her associate degree.

"I'm very thankful that this program exists, and that the people who pay their taxes would allow me and others to receive a college education," Spinaci said. "I've talked to a lot of my UNG classmates and some are literally drowning in student debt. To be able to advance to a bachelor's degree at literally no cost is a blessing."

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