Dual Enrollment for All!

When most discuss the merits of dual-enrollment programs in our high schools, thoughts immediately turn to those classic over-achievers who are looking to earn a high school diploma along with two or three years of college before they turn 18.  We talk of how K-12 systems and higher education systems struggle to work together.  And sometimes, we even discuss how we shouldn’t rush our kids and deprive them of a “traditional” high school experience.

Meanwhile the high school dropout rate has remained steady for decades (and Eduflack is one who believes that the dropout rate is, unfortunately, close to one-third.)  Drop-out factories remain prevalent in many of our urban and rural communities.  Too many students from historically disadvantaged backgrounds do not have access to college prep high schools (with AP and IB classes).  Yet we continue to talk about how every student should be college ready when the odds are against at-risk students to even get through high school.

So what is one to do?  A new study from the Blackboard Institute finds that dual enrollment programs could be the great equalizer.  In the report, Columbia University’s Elisabeth Barrett and Rutgers University’s Liesa Stamm found that dual enrollment can benefit all students, not just those on the fast track.  Specifically, the found dual enrollment offers all students benefits such as:

* Enhancing the academic rigor of high school curricula
* Providing students with a broader range of academic and career-oriented courses and electives
* Offering students the opportunity to earn college credit while still in high school
* Introducing high school students to college academic expectations and preparing them for college-level study
* Making education more interesting and relevant, to the extent that students can take courses that relate to their interests or career goals
* Facilitating the transition from high school to college
* Improving student prospects during the college admissions process as a result of college credits earned
* Accelerating progression to college degree completion
* Reducing the costs of college education by enabling students to earn college credits while in high school that are generally tuition-free

Of course, these are all arguments we have heard before.  But the study’s authors also point to the significant role that dual enrollment can play in helping at-risk students … if they are provided the right support services.  Such services include academic supports, course re-configurations, college preparatory initiatives, career exploration, and mentoring.

Perhaps most interesting, though, was the discussion of online dual enrollment.  First, the statistics.  According to the report, 70 percent of school districts had one or more students enrolled in a fully online or blended course.  Nearly 70 percent of those enrolled in online learning do so at the high school level.  Nearly two thirds of school districts expect growth in their fully online courses and 61 percent see growth for their blended courses.  

Despite popular opinion, these online courses are not being used to help accelerate those already far ahead.  Yes, they are being used to supplement AP offerings.  But school districts also reported they are using online to assist students who need extra help or credit recovery, to let students who failed a course take it again, to get around scheduling conflicts, and to offer courses not offered at the school.  It becomes particularly important to rural school districts, serving as “a cost-benefit mechanism for small rural school districts to provide students with course choices and in some cases even basic courses that would not otherwise be available to them.”

So why is all this important?  If we are serious about improving high school graduation rates and having those high school diplomas serving as more than just a glorified attendance certificate, we need to do things differently.  When one-third of students fail to earn a high school diploma, our high schools are failing.  When half of those going on to college need remediation, our high schools are failing.  And when too many students — particularly those from historically disadvantaged communities — don’t see the value of staying in school, our high schools are failing.

If we truly intend to make each and every child “college and career ready” after leaving high school, we need radical changes to how we teach in high school.  A rearrangement of the deck chairs simply won’t do.  We need to teach new courses in new ways.  We need to personalize instruction.  We need to emphasize the value.  We need all students to see what they are capable of.  And we need to recognize that different students learn in different ways.

The Blackboard Institute report reminds us a robust dual enrollment program can be key to transforming a high school.  And it highlights that online learning — and online dual enrollment programs — can be a core component to a high-quality, 21st century high school.  Need more?  Such dual enrollment and online programs are beneficial for all students, not just those on the Most Likely to Succeed list.  Dual enrollment for all!


5 thoughts on “Dual Enrollment for All!

  1. The idea of dual enrolling students all students is certainly an interesting one. However I think one key here is that not all students need to be “college ready.” A liberal arts degree isn’t the cure for all of the nation’s children and honestly won’t help us or them in today’s global market. What we should be doing is coordinating with and creating programs (perhaps through dual enrollment) for high school students that teach career/trade skills. Programs that encourage and give a path to students who aren’t interested in or a good fit for the traditional college box. I think if we could provide a better vision than English 101 we might retain more at risk students.

  2. Lindsey — I would agree with you that “not all students need to be ‘college ready,'” but that’s not me talking, that’s the federal government.  The U.S. Department of Education has decided our goal is that every student should be college and career ready.  High school exit exams will be aligned to reflect that.  While the “career ready” piece may address your concern, the goal is that every student graduates from high school prepared for postsecondary education.

  3. Thank you for this post and for highlighting the Blackboard Institute’s report. I agree that dual enrollment programs can be an important college access strategy. There is, as the report points out, a lack of good data on this but we have some evidence at DePaul University that it is indeed the case.Over the past decade, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) ran an extensive dual enrollment program with several partner colleges and universities. DePaul was the largest university partner; more than 1,600 CPS students took courses here since the program began in 1998. The more important point, however, is that a majority of them came from the city’s neighborhood schools where there are fewer advanced courses than in the city’s selective high schools. Yet for the most part they performed very well. Unfortunately, CPS ended the program last year due to budget cuts. DePaul is actively exploring ways to continue dual enrollment programming particularly for students in Chicago with fewer opportunities for advanced curricula. But the need is very great and there are obvious limits to institutional action. In addition, as the report indicates, the cost of college-based programming of this sort tends to be high, while the enrollment yield for host institutions is usually quite low. Institutional efforts are to be applauded, of course, but collaborative approaches will have broader impact. However, where the incentive will come for that, given the competitive environment in higher education and the current condition of state finances, is far from clear.

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