More students in the Detroit school district will be able to graduate with free college credit under an expanded community college partnership.

The district announced the expanded partnership with the Wayne County Community College District during a press conference Monday at Ben Carson School for Science and Medicine.

The partnership is a crucial part of the district’s efforts to create a career pathway for students beginning in their freshman year, and to increase the number of dual enrollment courses students can take.

Dual enrollment allows students to take college courses along with high school courses, giving many students a head start on their college careers (and lowering their costs if they earn college credit). Dual enrollment courses are increasingly popular across the country, but only nine of the district’s high schools offer them. The district has 22 high schools, but is pushing to ensure all of them offer the classes.

Detroit Superintendent Nikolai Vitti said Monday that taking dual enrollment classes “is a more solid pathway to college than any other vehicle,” because it allows students to immediately know if they’re college-ready.

This is how the expanded partnership would work: Students would be able to earn six to eight college credits per school year — at no cost to the students — through classes that are taught by the community college district and are aligned to the district’s career pathways. Those pathways are in the following areas: business and entrepreneurship; health care; technology, media and arts; law, education, and public safety; engineering, manufacturing, and transportation; construction; and service industry.

According to a news release from the district, some of the classes offered “will lead to certification or industry licensing while students are still in high school.” Meanwhile, other programs will “shorten the credits needed for an associate’s degree or a four-year undergraduate degree.”

Currently, the partnerships that exist between the Detroit district and the community college are isolated to some schools that worked out agreements on their own. The classes weren’t always aligned to the district’s career pathways. That’s important, given those pathways were chosen because they’re in demand and are areas in which companies are struggling to hire qualified workers.

The partnership between the two also already includes “College Jumpstart,” a set of general education, post-secondary classes offered by the community college district that can be transferred to 30 Michigan colleges, according to the release.

That’s how students like Krystia Maxwell, a sophomore at Southeastern High School, have been able to take college dual enrollment classes in her area of interest: business management. She said the classes are helping her understand what college expectations are like.

“Dual enrollment opened me up to different ways of thinking,” Krystia said. “It’s been a really good opportunity for me.”

During Tuesday’s press conference, students from Southeastern, Western International High School, Detroit School of Arts, and Ben Carson School for Medicine and Science were on hand to talk about their experiences.

Vitti said he believes the expanded partnership will increase high school enrollment, attendance, and overall student achievement. He said the next step is to “engage the metro Detroit business community to provide our students with internships, job shadowing, and job opportunities in alignment with the career academies.”

Curtis Ivery, chancellor for the community college district, said expanded dual enrollment classes will be introducing “high school students to real-world learning opportunities and giving them the tools and knowledge to grow in the 21st century economy.”