High school students taking college classes soon will be able to pay for them using federal funding through an experiment the Obama administration announced Friday.

Beginning next fall, up to 10,000 students in dual-enrollment programs will receive Pell grants, a form of federal financial aid that covers tuition, books and fees for needy college students.

As the cost of college has risen faster than the rate of inflation, leaving many families struggling to afford higher education, dual-enrollment courses have grown in popularity. They offer students a chance to save money, earn credits toward a degree and get a taste of the college experience.

Eighty-two percent of public high schools partner with colleges to help more than 1.4 million students earn credits, according to the Education Commission of the States, a nonpartisan think tank. Yet minority and low-income students tend to be underrepresented in these programs.

A growing number of states have reduced or eliminated tuition to encourage lower-income families to participate.

“States like Iowa, Colorado, Florida that have put policies in place to ensure course access, quality, transferability are seeing large number of students, including more ethnically diverse students, than states with barriers like having students pay full tuition,” said Jennifer Dounay Zinth, director of high school and STEM at the Education Council.

Of the 600 high school students taking classes at Maryland’s Montgomery College this semester, about 20 percent have tuition completely waived, said Melissa F. Gregory, chief enrollment services and financial aid officer at the community college. The students who pay – about $472 for a three-credit course – are still spending much less than they would at a four-year university.

Costs, nevertheless, can add up for families with limited means, especially once books and fees are added.

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