Brandon Hedgepeth, a Woodside High School graduate, was a dual enrollment student at Thomas Nelson for two years.
Hundreds of area high school students participate in dual enrollment courses at Thomas Nelson every year. For the 2018-19 academic year, two-thirds of those went on to four-year institutions, a number Vice President of Student Affairs Kris Rarig said was “impressive” since the VCCS average is 50%.
“We are happy and honored to be part of their journey, and that their Thomas Nelson transcript was received and awarded credit at colleges in Virginia and across the country,” she said.
Steven Felker, Director of Institutional Research and Effectiveness, said while the College would love for those students to continue their education at Thomas Nelson, that’s not the reason behind dual enrollment.
“One of our main goals in dual enrollment is to prepare students to be successful in higher education, regardless of where they choose to attend,” he said.
Brandon Hedgepeth, who graduated from Woodside High School in the spring, first heard about Thomas Nelson’s dual enrollment program when he was in middle school. He participated in it his junior and senior years at Woodside, and also did early college at Thomas Nelson toward the end of 12th grade. He said he earned a total of 26 college credits before he was out of high school.
“I definitely enjoyed the experience, but it took a little while to get used to,” said Hedgepeth, who will attend Old Dominion University in the fall to study communications.
He said the best part was being able to take college courses at his high school campus in an environment with which he was familiar. However, he admitted to being a little bit intimidated when he first thought about dual enrollment.
“But Day 1, when I walked it, it was like, ‘Oh, this is not as bad as I thought,’” he said.
He had taken a lot of advanced classes in high school so he said the transition wasn’t overwhelming.
“It definitely was different,” he said. “But when I got to the first dual enrollment classes, it felt more professional and a different learning style than the traditional high school classes I was in.”
He did consider continuing his college education at Thomas Nelson, and even said it would have been a smooth transition. But overall, he thought ODU was just a better fit.
“It was a decision that was more favorable toward Old Dominion, but if I had to go to Thomas Nelson, I would have enjoyed it,” he said.
And would he recommend dual enrollment?
“Absolutely. I really enjoyed my whole dual enrollment experience,” he said. “It’s really shown me truly the college experience, and it’s not as intimidating as I initially thought it would be.”
Jalyn Whitfield, a 2020 graduate of Bethel High School, learned about dual enrollment before starting her junior year. She jumped at the chance.
“I was like, ‘I can take college classes for zero dollars? Put me in it,’” she said.
She will start her college career in the fall at Virginia Tech (bio-medical science with a minor in Spanish), and will have 20 college credits. Her dual enrollment English class didn’t intimidate her because she’s confident in her writing ability. However, for her anatomy and physiology class, it was a different story.
“I was so scared that I was going to bomb that class,” she said. “It’s not like you can write a paper and get an A.”
But she did well, and enjoyed the dual enrollment experience.
“I think it was a better bridge between high school and college than most other classes,” she said. “You can take your honors classes. You can take some AP classes, but you’re not going to get a professor at an actual college to teach that class. Just to ease my way into college, I feel like that was the best part.”
She, too, thought about continuing at Thomas Nelson.
“With the whole pandemic, I was really considering just going to Thomas Nelson and taking my pre-reqs,” she said.
She added it would have been a waste of money to attend Virginia Tech if it hadn’t re-opened. She said if it doesn’t work out, she will try the guaranteed admission program at Thomas Nelson.
One of the best things she learned from dual enrollment was time management, which was important since she was involved in cheerleading, track, gymnastics, National Honor Society, National English Honor Society, Governor’s Health and Science Academy and was president of the Principal’s Advisory and Consulting team.
“If I had nothing to do and just sat around, my work would never get done,” she said. “I like to have a tight schedule. That’s how I manage.”
Hedgepeth, who was on the city-wide SCA executive board, Principal’s Advisory Committee, robotics team and involved in numerous other activities, also said his busy scheduled was a benefit.
“I feel like it almost helped having a balanced schedule,” he said.
Dual enrollment makes Hedgepeth and Whitfield great candidates for success at the next level, even if it’s not where they began their college experiences.
“While we certainly would love for them to continue at Thomas Nelson following their high school graduation, we know that many of our dual enrollment students are well-served by the strong Virginia universities that they often attend,” Felker said.