Dual-Enrollment Proposal in N.Y. Faces Fiscal Hurdle

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The New York state board of regents’ proposal for a new, $100 million dual-enrollment grant program aimed at giving at least 12,000 disadvantaged students a leg up for college may end up competing for a share of state education aid, amid a fiscal climate cooled by recent volatility on Wall Street.

The Smart Scholars Partnership Program would build on existing dual-enrollment programs, steering grant money to state and independent colleges and universities that partner with schools and other organizations to ramp up the academic performance of students identified as unlikely to graduate from high school or college and those lacking tuition money.

“This proposal reaches out to kids in high-poverty situations, giving them the support to graduate high school, but also [to] get college credits while they’re doing so,” said Jonathan Burman, a spokesman for the board of regents, which oversees education in the state from kindergarten through college.

The idea may face rough going, however—not only because of Albany’s famously fanged political process, but because money may be harder to find, according to Richard M. Flanagan, a professor of political science, economics, and philosophy at the College of Staten Island, in New York City, who follows state politics.

“The politics of spending last year was that there was a lot of money floating around; in that context, I don’t think it would have come into much trouble,” he said of the proposal.

But now, Mr. Flanagan said, “I think that any new program will be vulnerable over the next three fiscal years—the tax revenues are beginning to dry up,” and the project “may get banged up in the process.” The proposal is part of the regents’ $21.5 billion aid proposal (requires Microsoft Word) for pre-K-12 education for fiscal 2009.

Under the dual-enrollment plan, starting in 9th grade, students identified as at risk of dropping out of high school or not succeeding in college would be provided with extra academic support so that they would be ready to start taking college-level classes by the time they got to the 11th and 12th grades. By high school graduation, the students could have earned up to 30 transferable college credits, and would be able to graduate from a state or independent college in three years.

The proposal estimates spending about $8,000 on each student in the program, which aims to ensure that college-level classes taken in high school will be transferable to both public and private colleges, and aligned with freshman-level courses of a majority of colleges and universities in the state.

While it does not name specific campuses, the proposal mentions building on the work of the College Now program, which connects City University of New York colleges with city public high schools, as well as that of the Early College High School initiative. The latter, a project of the Washington-based nonprofit organization Jobs for the Future, helps high school students across the country graduate with an associate’s degree or two years of college credit.

The Research

Documentation accompanying the state regents’ proposal cites a study released last month by researchers at Teachers College, Columbia University, which found generally positive outcomes for dual-enrollment programs focused on Florida and New York City students in career and technical education.

Melinda Mechur Karp, a Columbia senior research associate who was a co-author of the study, said dual-enrollment programs can help students. In particular, she singled out New York City’s College Now program as “a really good model.”

But she said that while thousands of students nationwide take part in some kind of dual-enrollment program, there haven’t been many studies of such programs in general, let alone data supporting the idea of offering college-level classes to high school students who aren’t academic highfliers.

Ms. Karp said, it’s hard to say even how unusual the New York proposal is, given that many schools and colleges don’t do a good job of tracking how many of their students are also enrolled elsewhere.

Despite the amount of money proposed for the program and the bureaucratic advantages of pursuing it in New York state, where one board oversees both pre-K-12 and higher education, she said, dual-enrollment programs’ success or failure often depend heavily on nuts-and-bolts factors.

“To some extent, it [comes down to] money and turf,” said Ms. Karp. “Dual enrollment really forces institutions to work together, and sometimes that’s a good thing, and sometimes it makes some nervous.”

Although $100 million sounds like a lot, she said, it might not go as far as policymakers hope.

“You may have to serve fewer students if you really want to do it right,” she said.

Money may, indeed, turn out to be the major stumbling block.

In the current fiscal year, New York will spend $19.6 billion on precollegiate education in an overall state budget of $120.7 billion.

But because of state tax-revenue losses tied to diminished fortunes in the Wall Street-based financial sector, Paul Francis, budget director to Democratic Gov. Eliot Spitzer, has projected a $4.3 billion hole in the state budget for next year.

Vol. 27, Issue 13, Pages 15, 18

Published in Print: November 28, 2007, as Dual-Enrollment Proposal in N.Y. Faces Fiscal Hurdle
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