Current freshmen in Dorchester District 2’s three high schools will have the opportunity to get two years of college credit under their belt by the time they earn a high school diploma.

Through a partnership with Trident Technical College, the district plans to start an Early College program this summer with 90 students, 30 each from Summerville, Fort Dorchester and Ashley Ridge high schools. The program is free.

Jed and Melanie DeHaven are considering it for their oldest child, Ballard, a freshman at Fort Dorchester.

“He is excited about the opportunity, and two years of college credit at no cost or very little is a big bonus,” said Jed DeHaven.

Each of the schools already offers dual-credit and advanced-placement classes, and Fort Dorchester also has an International Baccalaureate program.

“We don’t want this to impact in a negative way our AP or IB programs,” said Sean Alford, district assistant superintendent for instruction. “We want to cast the net wider and provide rigorous and challenging opportunities for a greater number of students.”

The program will be open to any student who can pass a college entrance exam.

“Students have to understand that ... there is the expectation that they perform in a highly rigorous environment and meet those expectations for collegiate study,” Alford said. The students must earn a “C” or higher to receive credit for the college classes.

Dorchester 2 is not the first in the area to offer such a program. Berkeley Middle College is in its third year, and Charleston County is in the process of building the Center for Advance Studies at Wando, a middle college concept that will house 600 students.

Early College differs from Middle College in that it allows students to start taking college courses when they pass the entrance exam; middle college requires students to be in 11th grade.

With Early College, “students have the opportunity to access coursework earlier in their career and we don’t have to try to cram those college courses in just two years,” Alford said.

The program will begin this summer with students taking two classes, computer and psychology.

They will take at least six hours of college credit per semester and have the chance to take classes in the summer. The courses will be taught by instructors from Trident Tech at each high school.

The students will continue to take high school classes toward a diploma at the same time.

The high schools will define majors and programs of study, which can include culinary arts and hospitality, aeronautical studies, engineering and industrial technology and health professions.

The program is not limited to top students who aspire to go to college, Alford said. “Whether we are preparing them for college or the world of work, we want to hold them to the same high standards,” he said. “In doing that, we are providing an education for every student that is not only flexible but allows them to be competitive.”

The district already offers Career and Technology Education programs and EDGE Career Academies in each of the high schools.

“We always ask ourselves, when the student completes our CATE programs, what credentials have they earned? What are the next steps for that student that will help him or her obtain viable employment? Currently, we have none. We want students to have work-based certificates qualifying them immediately for well-paying jobs upon graduation from high school,” Alford said.

The early college program will allow for that.

“This program is all about college and career readiness,” said Superintendent Joe Pye. “We see this as a thing of the future.”