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School & District Management

Dual-Enrollment Programs Spreading

By John Gehring — April 25, 2001 12 min read
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When the alarm clock blares its unwelcome wake-up call at 6 a.m. in Noah Hogan’s bedroom, the 17-year-old has to fight off the temptation to sleep in and skip class. Like many seniors, he has already been accepted by a college, and these last months of high school can be a tedious countdown to graduation.

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What drives him out of bed is a first-period, college-level writing class he takes at his school. Unlike some other classes he’s enrolled in, this one not only challenges him intellectually, but also allows him to earn both high school and college credits.

“I just wanted to get some college credits out of the way in high school,” said Mr. Hogan, a student who has also earned college credits from Salt Lake Community College in computer science, mathematics, and English at Tooele High School in Tooele, Utah, about 40 miles west of Salt Lake City. “These classes help you more,” he added. “They’re not just about memorizing facts for the test.”

A growing number of students are shrugging off the symptoms of “senioritis” through such dual-enrollment programs that give them an early taste of the rigors of college-level work. Experts say such programs also can make for a more efficient use of students’ final years of high school.

Through dual-enrollment programs, high school students can earn college credit either by enrolling in college-endorsed classes taught by their high school teachers at their regular schools or by taking those classes on college campuses.

Such classes differ from Advanced Placement courses, which use a standard examination at the end of the course to determine what students have learned. In dual-enrollment classes, students are graded based on midterm and final exams, just as in any college course. Dual enrollment, also referred to as concurrent enrollment, also generally targets a broader range of students, not just the top academic performers.

While solid national statistics don’t exist for the high school-based college classes, the programs have become popular in some states such as Utah, Arkansas, and Arizona. Salt Lake Community College, with 18,450 full-time students, had 8,000 students taking college-level classes at their high schools last year, the largest number in the state.

But experts say the fastest-growing type of dual- enrollment programs are the ones that use high school teachers who are certified to teach college-level courses at their high schools.

High school, particularly the senior year, is under a new round of scrutiny from educators and policymakers. The National Commission on the High School Senior Year, a group formed by former U.S. Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley, released a preliminary report in January calling the final year of high school a “lost opportunity” for too many seniors.(“U.S. Urged To Rethink High School,” Jan. 24, 2001.)

The commission found that even the best students often spend their final year of high school taking easy courses, cutting class, and worrying more about jobs or extracurricular activities than academics. With 29 percent of college freshmen needing remedial work, stronger connections need to be made between the K-12 and higher education systems, the commission said.

Leon Botstein, the president of Bard College in Annandale-on-the Hudson, N.Y., has even proposed that the final two years of high school be abolished so that students can have more flexibility in their education and careers. In his 1997 book, Jefferson’s Children: Education and the Promise ofAmerican Culture, he argues that it makes no sense to segregate high-school-age students in an environment disconnected from the adult world.

‘Feet to the Fire’

Jonathon Tonioli, another student at Tooele High who is racking up college credits on his transcript, now knows he has different expectations awaiting him when he begins college next year. Normally an A student, when the senior received a C on a recent test in a dual-enrollment class, it gave him a needed jolt.

“Before, I would go to class and it would be easy,” he said. “Now I realize I have to be more prepared.”

For Jane McBride, who teaches college-level writing and humanities classes at the school, dual enrollment pushes both students and teachers to a higher level of performance. “It allows the teacher to really put students’ feet to the fire,” she said. “I don’t let anything go. If they are sick, that’s too bad. High school students are used to making excuses. I have the same expectations as a college class.”

Students who earn college credits while in high school do so under different types of concurrent-enrollment programs that pair the schools with community colleges or with four-year institutions ranging from liberal arts colleges to large research universities.

Syracuse University in New York began its program, Project Advance, in 1973 largely to address the duplication of curriculum between the last two years of high school and the first two years of college. But local high school teachers also were looking for a way to keep students engaged, because students often can meet most graduation requirements by the end of 11th grade.

Gerald S. Edmonds, the associate director of Project Advance, said that too often high school students come to college unprepared for the more rigorous demands of college work.

“When we looked at even how the top high school students did in college, it wasn’t as well as we expected,” Mr. Edmonds said. “High school students come from an environment where bells tell them when to go to class, and teachers are on them all the time. College is very different.”

Today, about 4,000 students from more than 120 high schools in five states enroll each year in Syracuse University courses offered through the program, the largest of its kind in the nation. Project Advance has served as a model for similar programs at institutions that include Indiana University, the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, and the University of Pittsburgh.

Syracuse allows high school teachers to select the students for the program, but it recommends the classes only for highly motivated students who have a B average or better. High school teachers who lead the college-level classes must meet Syracuse’s academic requirements for adjunct college instructors. For most, that means a master’s degree and five years of teaching experience in their subjects.

Students follow the same syllabuses, use the same textbooks, and are graded by the same measures as students taking the courses at Syracuse. They can choose from courses in 13 subject areas that include classes in biology, chemistry, economics, psychology and French.

“The way we present it to students is they are now college students,” said Bob Meikle, the president of the National Alliance of Concurrent Enrollment Partnerships, a recently formed Syracuse University-based group that hopes to make dual-enrollment programs more standardized nationwide. “Their campus is now a satellite campus. This is one of the ways to close that gap between high school and college.”

Quality Questions

But critics of dual-enrollment programs contend that the quality of the classes is often questionable, and that colleges can be more interested in the financial benefits they gain from signing up more students than in ensuring that they live up to college-level standards. State funding for dual-enrollment programs differs depending on the state and institution. How much students pay to take the classes also varies, but most students end up paying significantly less for such credits than full-time college students.

Gay Garesché, an economics professor at Glendale Community College, part of the 10-college Maricopa Community College District in Phoenix, says dual-enrollment programs lack the rigor of college-level coursework and have become cash cows for both colleges and high schools.

“It’s nothing but a gravy train,” Ms. Garesché said. “The [college] district is chomping at the bit to get students, but they are taking classes like weightlifting and keyboarding. This is absurd. ... This thing has grown way out of control. The quality is just not there.”

The Maricopa college district in which Ms. Garesché teaches is the nation’s second-largest community college district, with about 100,000 students. Last year, about 11,000 students in Arizona took dual-enrollment classes, and about 8,000 of those were in programs tied to the Maricopa district.

Because Arizona high schools and colleges receive full state funding for each dually enrolled student, Ms. Garesché said, both colleges and high schools strongly promote the classes as an economic boon, although no solid estimates exist. While she supports concurrent-enrollment programs in which high school students take classes on a college campus, Ms. Garesché said high schools typically lack the college-caliber lab facilities, research facilities, and tutoring centers, and thus can’t provide classes that are on a par with what students receive in college.

In Arizona, the state law that permits dual-enrollment courses mandates that students prove they are ready for college-level work by scoring a 22 on the ACT, out of a possible 36, or a combined score of 930 out of 1600 on the SATnot particularly high scores, Ms. Garesché argues.

But Don Campbell, the president of the Maricopa Community Colleges’ governing board, calls these classes “a win-win situation for students, parents, and Arizona.” Mr. Campbell said taxpayers are not paying twice for these students because if the student takes more than four high school courses there is no additional state funding. Vernon Smith, the faculty senate president at Rio Salado College, a Tempe, Ariz.-based school in the Maricopa college district, said many high school students are prepared to do college-level work. To deny them a chance to do so in a cost-effective way, he believes, is an “elitist perception of what constitutes a true college experience.”

He said that college faculty members regularly review dual- enrollment classes to make sure they are up to standard.

The Board of Regents in South Dakota decided not to recognize dual-credit courses in March after concerns about standards became an issue. At one institution, for example, college credit was given to students taking Algebra I and II. Regents want high school students’ college coursework validated by an Advanced Placement or college-level exam.

Bruce Johnstone, a professor of higher and comparative education at the State University of New York at Buffalo, said much of the criticism of high-school based college courses has to do with the perception on the part of many college professors that such classes don’t have the same standards as courses taken with other college students at a university.

Despite the generally high quality of programs like Project Advance at Syracuse University, most high school-based dual-enrollment programs don’t live up to that model’s high standards, Mr. Johnstone maintains. Adding to the skepticism, he says, is the fact that students’ college transcripts often don’t show whether college credits were earned by high school students at college or high school.

“There seems to be a general attitude that this information needs to be repressed on the part of the community college because it’s a money-maker,” Mr. Johnstone said. “If it was known their credits were given on a high school campus, there would be an even more adverse reaction on the part of four-year colleges.”

Burgeoning Numbers

At Indiana University, staff members work closely with high school teachers to make sure college-level classes taught in high schools keep to a high standard, said Sharon Lynn Sperry, the director of the university’s Advance College Project.

High school teachers receive a thorough review before they are allowed to teach a class, she said, and ongoing professional development is available to teachers during the year and during summer seminars.

“We really feel like we have quality control,” Ms. Perry said. “These programs allow us to make sure we know what is going on in the classroom is college-level work.”

The number of high schools participating in dual-enrollment classes, she said, has nearly doubled in the past few years. Some 1,600 students from 90 high schools in Indiana, Ohio and Michigan are now earning college credits through Indiana University campuses.

Students pay $83 per credit hour, compared with the $121 for students taking a class on a college campus. And Ms. Sperry said students participating in the university’s Advance College Project are outperforming other students at Indiana. Students in the ACP program had an average grade point average of 2.9 for fall 2000, compared with a 2.4 for other students

Frank P. Wilbur, the associate vice president at Syracuse University and the executive director for the university’s Project Advance, said despite the growing number of programs and partnerships between college and high schools, there are still too few connections between them.

Mr. Wilbur, who tracks such partnerships nationally, said some 2,300 partnerships that range from having college students tutor middle school students to dual-enrollment programs exist between secondary and postsecondary institutions, nearly double the approximately 1,200 that were around in 1989.

Too often, though, partnerships between colleges and high schools are scattered throughout higher education institutions, and are not a formal part of the colleges’ structure or philosophy, he said. “Many countries have a [unified] system of education,” he said. “We do not.”

“College presidents have a lot on their plates,” Mr. Wilbur added. “It takes a lot of leadership to set up the machinery for partnerships, and it’s even harder to sustain them after the first blush of enthusiasm. It’s easier to say rather than do.”

A version of this article appeared in the April 25, 2001 edition of Education Week as Dual-Enrollment Programs Spreading


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