August 2018

College Before Graduation

Cabrillo Offers Local High School Students an Alternative

By Suki Wessling

Probably the most important thing happening to high school education these days is seldom acknowledged in the wider discussions of k-12 education: students are benefiting from an increasing number of alternatives to attending comprehensive high schools.

Some students are homeschooling.

Some students attend alternative schools.

Some students attend specialized magnet schools.

And many of them have the option of attending college at the same time.

“It’s a safe way for students to have the college experience,” explains Meghan Brightwater, Outreach and Recruitment Coordinator at Cabrillo. “They have access to all our resources and they’re getting support from their high schools, as well.”

Students in area high schools can take many courses at Cabrillo as dual enrollment students. As long as a course is not offered by their high school, and with the exception of some of the higher-level UC-transferable courses, students are taking—and excelling in— community college courses.

Charlotte McManus’s 14-year-old has been taking courses at Cabrillo as a homeschooler.

“I was worried because he was young, but so far, Cabrillo has been a positive experience,” she says. “He’s had great teachers who are focused on helping students learn.”

Homeschooled and schooled teens alike may have trouble accessing courses in their areas of passion and interest. Charlotte McManus’s son has been pleased with what he’s found at Cabrillo.

“There have been field trips and hands-on activities,” she says. “He’s taken two lab classes and his lecture classes had some small group work. He feels like he fits in and is more confident.”

Meghan Brightwater explains that high school students commonly come to Cabrillo for three reasons:

They have exhausted the high school offerings in one area of study

Their high school doesn’t offer a specific type of course

They are behind in credits or want to make up credits quickly

“We work with the alternative schools in the county,” she points out. “For every one credit they get at Cabrillo, they get 3 1⁄3 credits at their high school.”

Cabrillo’s foreign language courses are especially popular, given that two semesters fulfills the two years of credits needed by high school students. Advanced math students may find more math offerings at Cabrillo than at their high school. And students with interests in the arts will find more variety.

“There are hundreds of classes at Cabrillo that students can take through the dual enrollment program—great hands-on, computer-based, and academic-themed courses.”

Cabrillo courses are especially popular with students taking alternative paths. “Students gain maturity and confidence as they experience a college-level environment,” says Jasmin Gerer, a teacher at alternative family education in Santa Cruz. “High school students have benefited from the guidance they have gotten from their community college professors while also receiving more individual attention in smaller classes.”

There can also be practical reasons for students to take college courses. “Families can save on college tuition as students complete their degrees in three years instead of four—if the college they attend accepts the credits—and students can often enroll in advanced upper division courses when they transfer,” Gerer explains.

What You Should Know

There are a few things that prospective dual enrollment students should know about enrolling in Cabrillo courses.

First of all, the process is not as quick as they might imagine. students need to register online then enroll in person with a signed dual enrollment form from their high school counselor. They may need to take placement tests.

Second, although meeting with a Cabrillo counselor is not required, it is strongly recommended so students can make the best decisions about their education.

Third, dual enrollment students have low registration priority, so it might be difficult to get into popular courses. Students should check with their counselor about the steps necessary to get into priority enrollment.

Finally, college courses taken during high school may or may not count for college credit at a four-year institution. Students should look carefully at potential four-year universities to understand their policies.

You can also listen to past students for advice. Jay friedland’s son started taking classes in 10th grade and found that looking at the course catalog was just the start.

“The key to his success (beyond hard work) was finding professors compatible with his learning style,” Friedland says. “Research using Rate my Professors is a great start along with asking other students who had those professors. The other very helpful thing he learned was to talk to the accessibility office about accommodations and well-matched professors. The Cabrillo accessibility support Center is a great resource for students.”

Access to College is Growing

There are currently two charter high schools on the Cabrillo campus that integrate Cabrillo courses into their curriculum, Delta and Oasis. Other schools in the county strongly encourage or even require Cabrillo courses.

“We require concurrent enrollment as a graduation requirement because there are a great deal of unanticipated challenges when a student goes to college for the first time: transportation, placement tests, registering for classes, LMs interface, initiating conversations with teachers, dealing with the registrar and ordering transcripts,” explains Jay Dunlap, Executive Director of explore MCP, a small private school in Scotts Valley that serves students with special learning needs.

“When in high school you have a better support network, lower stakes for mistakes and the opportunity to develop tools and routines to address those challenges.”

Cabrillo’s services to high school students only stand to grow with the funding of a new, full-time staff position.

“We are making an additional commitment to our dual enrollment program as an area of growth overall,” explains Cabrillo’s Director of Marketing, Kristin Fabos. “The core elements of Cabrillo’s focus are our basic skills, transfer, and career and technical education. having a robust dual enrollment program really benefits each of those three areas.”

“I think it’s a wonderful way for students to accomplish their credits quickly, and get a jumpstart on college education as well as experiencing the culture of college.”

For more information: access Cabrillo’s dual enrollment information at or call 831-479-5759.

Suki Wessling is a writer and teacher and the mother of two teens, both of whom have attended Cabrillo as high schoolers. Her most recent book is homeschool with Confidence, a goal-setting guide for teens. Read more at www.

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