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Helena is becoming an even better place to be a student.

Among the most well-received programs now available in Helena is Carroll College’s Early Access program, which allows qualified high school juniors and seniors to take up to two Carroll College classes per semester tuition-free. It is open to all students with a GPA of 3.25 or greater in Lewis and Clark, Jefferson and Broadwater counties.

After announcing the new program in June, Carroll College’s new President John Cech said he would have been pleased to see 15 or 20 high schoolers sign up. Following the enrollment deadline at the end of August, he had 99.

Those 99 high schoolers are not only saving thousands of dollars on higher education, but also gaining valuable college experience that will help them make better decisions about their future.

And it wouldn’t have been possible without the strong support of the participating high schools, along with former Helena Public Schools Superintendent Jack Copps and his successor Tyler Ream.

At Helena High School, which has the highest number of students participating in Early Access, Principal Steve Thennis said the scheduling aspect has presented some challenges because class times and semesters are not synchronous. But officials from public and private high schools here in Helena and as far away as Townsend and Boulder have bent over backwards to make it work, and we are impressed by the determination of the teachers and administrators to help their students take advantage of this great opportunity.

Meanwhile, hundreds of high schoolers have been enrolling in dual enrollment classes coordinated by Helena College for years. And now they can take two of those classes for free, too.

In August, Gov. Steve Bullock and Commissioner of Higher Education Clay Christian announced the One-Two-Free program, which eliminates a $50.50 per credit fee for dual credit classes provided through the Montana University System. The discount applies to any dual enrollment classes taught on the Helena College campus, online, or at local high schools by approved high school teachers.

While Helena College won’t know how many students are taking advantage of the program until enrollment numbers are finalized at the end of September, it had 262 students taking at least one dual enrollment class in the spring of this year and more than 400 the semester before that.

“It’s a significant portion of our enrollment,” said Sandra Bauman, Helena College’s associate dean of academic and student affairs.

With these new tuition-free college programs, three new elementary schools under construction and security and technology upgrades being added to all other public elementary schools in Helena, local students and their families have much to be thankful for.

We are excited to see this great progress and look forward to what’s yet to come for local students.

This is the opinion of the Independent Record editorial board. 

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