Depending on your perspective, Mark Ophaug is either one of the loudest cheerleaders or one of the biggest nags for a University of Florida online program aimed at giving high school students a head start to higher education.
Ophaug, director of academy programs at Piper High School in Sunrise, Florida, beats the bushes to coax students to take advantage of the UF Online Dual Enrollment program, which allows students attending high school to simultaneously earn college credits at Florida’s flagship university during their junior and senior years. And, it costs them nothing.
“I’m a real pain,” says Ophaug. He admits to asking hesitant but otherwise qualifying students: “Are you serious about going to a four-year institution or not? This is an open door for you. Why not?”
His strategy is paying off: The number of dual enrollment students at Piper has jumped to an estimated 30 this school year from three the prior year.
It’s easy to see why.
By enrolling in UF Online Dual Enrollment, high school students in participating school districts can essentially enter UF early by logging online to take any of about 50 general education courses. School districts partner with UF to support the cost of students’ tuition, which funds technology, instructional design and UF faculty instructors.
UF Online Dual Enrollment is the only fully web-based program of its kind in Florida. The development of this campus-wide program was led by the College of Education in 2012 to fill a need to improve college access to high school students who otherwise might not be able to afford high-quality higher education, says Tom Dana, associate dean of the College of Education.
“It’s part of our outreach mission to help school districts provide opportunities for students,” he says.
In 2016, Dual Enrollment became a UF Office of the Provost initiative under the management of UF Distance & Continuing Education. Two EduGator alumni help lead the program: Litza Echeverria Rubio, program coordinator, and Brian Marchman, assistant provost and director of UF Distance Learning. Last school year, the online component served roughly 1,000 high school students. To qualify, students must have at least a 3.5 GPA and meet other requirements.
While dual enrollees don’t have to attend UF, the program can serve as a pipeline to the university, Marchman says. “Our aim is to capture the interest of Florida’s finest high school students early in their higher ed decision-making process. With exposure to UF faculty and our high-quality course offerings, we want to attract prospective Gators.”