Dual enrollment programs are billed as concurrent enrollment programs because the intent and design of these academic tracks focus on creating opportunities for high school students to earn college credits while enrolled in high school. The program is popular for highly motivated and high-achieving students who like to be challenged beyond the regular curriculum. The dual enrollment program is a nationwide initiative, but states, school districts, high schools and colleges can make autonomous decisions as to how the program is implemented and which colleges to work with as partners. As such, funding, subsidies and other financial considerations related to implementation of the program do not conform to a single template.
Goals of Dual Enrollment Programs
The primary goal of dual enrollment tracks is to provide opportunities to high school students to be exposed to college-level courses. The program is open to all students who meet benchmarks set by the school. Students who follow the defined academic track may earn enough college credits to complete an associate’s degree along with their high school diploma. When students pursue their bachelor’s degree at the partner college, the associate’s degree is credited as the first two years of a four or five-year bachelor’s degree. There may be limits on which courses are credited, if at all, at non-partner colleges.
Program Implementation Varies
High schools and their partner colleges provide different options for taking dual-credit classes. Students have the option of taking the classes on the college campus along with regular enrollees who may be older and more sophisticated. Some high school students may not be ready for this type of interaction, so high schools have offered a second option, which is to hold the classes on campus if the enrollment size supports it. This is less stressful for high school kids who may not have their own transportation. A third option is to structure the curriculum around an online/on-campus schedule. In all three scenarios, instructors must be qualified and fully credentialed to teach college-level courses.
Fees, Subsidies and Financing
There is no doubt that dual enrollment programs provide a high value to students, families and communities, but it is also costly to operate. Just as implementation and program design vary by state and school district, so do funding structures and who pays the tuition. This is a crucial issue because dual enrollment programs were supposed to ease access to college especially for those who may be economically disadvantaged.
A report from the Education Commission of the States outlines how each state funds dual enrollment programs. In 13 states and Washington, D.C., high schools negotiate with the partner college independently to determine how tuition is expensed and subsidized. These states include Alabama, Arkansas, Montana and others. Nine states, including Connecticut and Indiana make the students and their families responsible for tuition for dual-enrollment courses, while the school districts in four states carry the tuition costs as part of their budgets.
In Florida, students enrolled in public high schools who meet the minimum standards for dual enrollment can take the courses at no cost to their families. Homeschool and private school students have to pay tuition, the amount of which would depend on the program and the school district. California and Georgia have similar programs although their funds sources vary.
Dual enrollment programs have lofty but worthwhile goals. Education Dive reports that various studies have shown increased interest in college attendance in states with robust dual enrollment initiatives. It is important for policymakers to ensure that costs do not restrict access to the dual enrollment program so that it can benefit students who actually need the boost to get into college.