01/08/2013 10:07 am ET Updated Mar 10, 2013

High School Students Should Earn Credits at Community Colleges

As higher education becomes more expensive, prospective students should take advantage of a great way to cut costs by taking college courses in high school.

An ideal way to accomplish this is to enroll in special programs set up by community colleges. By doing this, high school students can determine how ready they are to undertake a degree in higher education and, in some cases, save a considerable amount of money towards an associate's or bachelor's degree.

According to the American Association of Community Colleges, the number of students under the age of 18 enrolled in community-college courses rose more than 50 percent in the past 10 years. For the 2011-12 academic year, there are now more than 800,000 high school students taking community college classes. Almost all of the more than 1,000 community colleges offer these dual enrollment programs.

Unlike Advanced Placement courses in high school, where a student often needs a pre-determined grade point average to enroll, courses at community colleges are open to everyone. Students who may not excel in English, for example, could do well in an automotive technology course.

Around the country, manufacturers have job openings that demand very specific skill sets. Many community colleges are now partnered with these businesses to meet their workforce needs. High school students should explore what certifications or degrees local businesses are looking for and begin tailoring their education to meet these criteria. Taking courses leading to a degree in healthcare is also a good way to getting an education that leads directly to a well-paying job.

At Ivy Tech in Indiana, where I have served as president since 2007, students can take courses at their high school for college credit once they have provided scores from PSAT, SAT or Accuplacer exams.

There is no charge for to enroll in an Ivy Tech course taught in a high school classroom by a qualified high school teacher. High school students also have the option of paying for a course taught at one of our many campuses throughout Indiana at night or on the weekend.

For high school students who may be the first in their family to attend college, taking a course at a community college introduces them to the rigor of college coursework. Many community colleges offer these courses at a reduced rate. Taking these college courses enables high school students to accelerate their way through college and save money while doing so.

With student loan debt passing the $1 trillion mark, students need ways to earn a degree without incurring a mountain of debt. Starting college in high school is a good first step in that direction.

Tom Snyder, President of Ivy Tech Community College in Indiana, is the author of "The Community College Career Track: How to Achieve the American Dream Without a Mountain of Debt."