by Leah Jackson

Eighty-seven students from 15 high schools throughout Louisiana fulfilled Northwestern State University’s requirements for an Associate of General Studies degree by taking dual enrollment classes.  They will officially be eligible for diplomas in August. By earning college credit in high school, the students save time and money in pursuit of their bachelor’s degrees, which often extends their TOPS eligibility towards application to a master’s or other post-bachelor’s degree. 

Dual enrollment students receive credit on both their high school and college transcripts for the same classes. NSU began awarding associate degrees to eligible high school students in 2016. 

Brianna Billiot, a recent graduate of Pickering High School, was among those students to earn the Associate of General Studies degree. She earned 63 hours and is already registered for 12 hours when she starts as a fulltime NSU student this fall classified as a junior majoring in Computer Information Systems.

During high school, Billiot earned college class credits in chemistry, fine arts, geography, anthropology, communications, finance, sociology and University 1000 freshman seminar and earned multiple credits for classes in psychology, Spanish, history, biology and math. 

“Taking dual enrollment classes in high school was, of course, more challenging than just taking high school classes, but it wasn’t hard to balance both,” Billiot said. “There were many other dual enrollment students at my high school. The main benefit is an early start. With dual enrollment you can get the beginner classes out of the way and once you get to college you can go straight in and start working on your major classes.” 

Billiot hopes to complete her degree and pursue a career as a private contractor and help larger businesses with their websites and online need.

Ty Russell graduated magna cum laude from Pleasant Hill High School in May, also with an Associate of General Studies degree.   Russell was part of the LA Gear Up initiative that partners universities with high poverty middle schools and high schools with the goal of increasing the number of low-income students who are prepared to enter and succeed in post-secondary education.

“I am often asked why I would want to stay at a small school, and I explain how PHHS and LA Gear Up have given me the opportunities to experience great success through attending ADVANCE Camp at NSU twice and through 60 hours of dual enrollment courses,” Russell said. “Without these opportunities, the experiences and an associate’s degree would not have been possible. I am grateful for the positive impact that LA Gear Up has made in setting me up for success with an associate degree and starting NSU as a junior with zero debt and multiple scholarships.” 

Earlier this year, state education leaders launched an initiative to widen access to high schoolers seeking college credits. 

According to Steve Hicks, director of NSU’s Academic Advising Services, the students are eligible to walk in NSU’s December commencement ceremonies if they wish.

“NSU is a leader in dual enrollment, which has the benefit of introducing students not only to college-level work but also college-specific resources such as books and counselors,” Hicks said. “The affordability of high school juniors and seniors taking college courses is an important benefit to many of our students.”

Vanner Erikson, NSU’s interim director of Enrollment and director of Recruiting, said dual enrollment is an important factor in student retention.

“The high school graduates who arrive at NSU as full-time students with two years of college coursework behind them already see the goal of a bachelor’s degree in sight, so they are usually very motivated to complete the bachelor’s and continue on for an advanced degree,” Erikson said.

“Every year, we’ve seen an uptick in the number of high schoolers eligible for associate degrees, from one student in 2016 when eligibility began to more than 80 students now six years later.  I’m pleased with the increase in completers and that students are taking advantage of this opportunity,” Hicks said. “These students have worked very hard and we are proud of them.”

For information on dual enrollment, contact Hicks at

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