Costs, Quality on Radar as Dual Enrollment Rises
Many states move to expand access
As dual-enrollment programs surge in popularity, policymakers and advocates are wrestling with how to pay the costs and promote access for all high school students who are eligible to earn college credit, especially low-income and minority populations. Along with the rapid expansion of such offerings also comes pressure to ensure quality in the courses students take.
In Florida, legislation approved last year shifted the cost burden for dual-enrollment courses from higher education institutions to K-12 districts, much to the dismay of many school systems. Meanwhile, Alabama lawmakers this year overwhelmingly pushed through a new tax credit on donations to a fund that could generate up to $10 million each year for scholarships so high school students can earn postsecondary credits in career-technical education fields.
The governors of Connecticut, Delaware, and South Dakota were among about a dozen state executives to promote dual enrollment in their State of the State addresses this year.
"We know that students who are challenged in high school with college-level material often rise to the occasion," said Delaware Gov. Jack A. Markell in his January address. He proposed a new scholarship program so that "all low-income Delaware students with college potential can take credit-bearing courses during their senior year of high school."
Also, a handful of states have named task forces recently to study and make recommendations regarding access, quality, and funding for dual-enrollment programs.
At the federal level, advocates are turning to Congress to help increase access. One idea is to expand Pell Grant eligibility to high school students so they could tap into the $33 billion federal student-aid program to pay for such classes.
At a House education committee hearing in late April, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan was asked about dual-enrollment initiatives.
"I'm a big, big fan," he said. "And to be very clear, this is not just good for the high flyers. I actually think these are good dropout-prevention programs."
Two lawmakers inquired about expanding the Pell program to pay for dual enrollment. Mr. Duncan stopped short of endorsing the idea, but expressed an openness to further conversation. However, some outside observers say such a change may be a long shot.
Recent federal data indicate rising demand among high school students for college-level coursework.
About 82 percent of U.S. public high schools reported that students were enrolled in a dual-credit course in 2010-11, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. That adds up to about 1.4 million students taking 2 million courses, compared with just 800,000 students enrolled in such programs in 2002-03, the NCES data show.
Dual-enrollment programs vary in form, but students typically can participate by taking the courses in high school classrooms, on college campuses, or online. The courses span many disciplines, including college algebra, principles of economics, U.S. history, and introduction to sociology, to name a few. In the career-technical area, high school students tend to gravitate toward the health sciences, information technology, and business courses, educators say.
It's often an affordable way to get a jump-start on college. Still, there are expenses and someone must pick up the tab.
Sometimes courses are free to students, or discounted to as low as $75 per class, while others can cost them as much as $400. Most frequently, the cost of dual enrollment is absorbed by postsecondary institutions, followed by parents and students, high schools and school districts, and the state, the NCES reports.
These arrangements, however, are being debated at the state and federal levels as policymakers try to balance sustaining programs financially with encouraging more students to enroll.
"There is so much activity at the state level that is percolating up," said Adam I. Lowe, the executive director of the National Alliance of Concurrent Enrollment Partnerships, an organization based in Chapel Hill, N.C., that has been accrediting programs since 2004 to ensure that the quality of college courses offered in high schools matches the content expected by colleges.
A growing body of research about the effectiveness of dual enrollment is helping to make the case.
For example, students who took such courses were 10 percent more likely to complete a bachelor's degree than a comparison group of entering college freshmen, according to a study published in the journal Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis in 2013. The edge was even greater—12 percent—for students whose parents never attended college.
Even as participation in dual-enrollment programs expands, the Education Commission of the States cautioned in a recent report that with the "possible exception of Massachusetts, minority and/or low-income students tend to be underrepresented in statewide dual-enrollment programs."
The policy and budgetary landscapes for dual enrollment are shifting rapidly, as more states enact measures to expand access and ensure better quality.
Just nine states now require families to pay the cost of dual-enrollment programs, down from 22 in 2008, according to Jennifer Dounay Zinth, a senior policy analyst at ECS. About a dozen states mandate these courses be available to students at no cost.
Thirty-seven states now have requirements regarding the quality of instruction for dual enrollment, up from 29 states six years ago, according to Denver-based commission. Some states require that participating high school teachers have adjunct faculty status, have professional development from subject-area faculty at partnering institutions, or mandate curriculum be identical, including syllabi, tests, and grading practices, said Ms. Zinth.
One state ECS highlighted for its policy on quality is Minnesota. In 2011, a new policy took effect whereby the state would only reimburse districts for the costs of programs that met certain quality criteria, such as gaining accreditation by NACEP.
This spring, Alabama added a new, $5 million appropriation for state community colleges for 2014-15 to help cover the cost of dual-enrollment programs for career-technical education. Republican Gov. Robert J. Bentley also signed legislation creating a scholarship program, to be funded by private donations, to support students interested in CTE dual credit. Contributors are eligible for tax credits beginning in 2015 for up to 50 percent of their donation, up to $500,000. The CTE scholarships will cover the total costs for participating students.
The idea was championed by state Rep. Mac Buttram, a Republican, to encourage students to get a professional certification and quickly enter the workforce.The plan put forward by Democratic Delaware Gov. Markell would provide $300,000 for dual-enrollment scholarships, with a preference given to students from low-income families. As of last week, its fate was still up in the air as the state budget had not been finalized by lawmakers.
In Connecticut, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, a Democrat, requested $2.5 million for dual enrollment, in part to support plans to open an early-college high school in collaboration with IBM, similar to what's known as the P-TECH model established in New York. The legislature ultimately provided $1 million, and the governor recently unveiled plans for the grades 9-14 school to open next fall in Norwalk.
Kentucky recently changed the prices charged to students for dual enrollment and began to encourage programs to meet standards similar to those required in NACEP accreditation. Students in the state's technical high schools used to take dual-enrollment courses at no cost, while those in general education dual-enrollment courses were charged the full rate of $144 per credit hour.
"There was a big gap between one group engaging in dual enrollment for free and another paying 100 percent," said Jay K. Box, the chancellor of the Kentucky Community and Technical College System.
Starting in the fall of 2012, all students taking technical dual-enrollment courses, such as construction technologies or blueprint reading, pay a $50 administrative fee (but still no tuition), and general education students can enroll at half the price of tuition, or about $230 per course.
At the same time the price structure changed, postsecondary institutions agreed to infuse quality standards into their dual-credit programs to look at student success and achievement, not just access.
"We want to make sure what the student is getting is really seen as college work," said Mr. Box.
In Florida, the state's public higher education institutions have traditionally absorbed the cost of dual enrollment, but postsecondary leaders began to look for relief as the programs exploded from 33,300 students in 2007-08 to 52,500 in 2012-13, according to the Florida Department of Education.
State institutions were losing approximately $52 million a year in potential tuition by offering dual enrollment, said Randy W. Hanna, the chancellor of the division of colleges at the state department.
While college presidents had pushed for a new, dedicated funding stream for dual enrollment, the legislature instead shifted the costs to districts. So, school systems had to quickly come up with funding for the first time (at a cost of more than $200 per course). The courses remain free to students, and one year after the shift, participation continues to grow, state officials say.
To deal with the new tuition costs, the Hernando County district in Brooksville, Fla., paid for high school teachers to get certified to teach the college-level courses.
"That began putting capacity in our building," improving access for students and lowering the fees paid to the college, said Marcia Austin, the supervisor for dual enrollment in the 22,000-student district.
Ms. Austin expects the legislative switch cost the district about $400,000 this academic year.
The change last summer came with no warning, said William J. "Bill" Montford, the chief executive officer of the Florida Association of District Superintendents, and a Democratic state senator.
"This put quite a burden on local school districts—not only the cost, but the timing as well—and caused some difficulty," he said.
The legislature this year did allocate $10 million specifically for instructional materials for dual-enrollment courses.
Vol. 33, Issue 33, Page 6