What is a Dual Enrollment Program?

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High school students are provided with different pathways to ease their way into college life, and a dual enrollment program is one of three popular academic tracks. The program is a nationwide initiative designed for high-achieving and highly motivated high school students who have the ability to take college-level courses in 10th, 11th and 12th grades to earn an associate’s degree while completing the requirements for high school graduation. Implementation of the dual enrollment program is spearheaded by the high schools in collaboration with a local college and with the direction of the School Board for the district. Students have the option of completing more than one associate’s degree during their high school years, and certificates of completion are typically awarded at their high school graduation.

Rationale Behind Dual Enrollment

Some high school students need challenges beyond what the regular curriculum can provide. Completing college-level courses as part of the high school curriculum demonstrates motivation, high achievement and competence, which would help demonstrate students’ level of readiness for college. Dual enrollment allows students to take college courses on the campus of a local college or on the high school campus with college instructors handling the classes. Completed courses may count for college credits, depending on the institution. Theoretically, completing an associate’s degree in high school would mean that the student will be entering college with enough credits as a second or third year college student. This also means that the student would have saved a year or two of college tuition and expenses by completing certain courses in high school. High school students do not pay tuition on dual enrollment classes according to a report by the Education Commission of the States.

Limitations of the Dual Enrollment Program

It is important to emphasize that dual enrollment credits earned in high school may not always translate to credits in all post-secondary schools. This is because the dual enrollment program is a collaboration between the high school and specific colleges in the area. The associate’s degree will be fully credited by the cooperating college, usually a community or state college, for the first two years of a four-year bachelor’s degree program. Other colleges may not award the full two-year credits while top-tier universities may not award any course credits at all. In both cases, completion of an associate’s degree through a dual enrollment program will count in favor of the students for purposed of admission and college readiness.

Alternatives to Dual Enrollment

High schools strive to provide college-readiness opportunities for all of its students. Dual enrollment is a popular choice for those who have chosen to pursue careers in the health, business, arts and technical fields. Alternatives to dual enrollment include the AP program wherein high school students complete as many AP courses as possible during their four years of high school. Students have to pass the tests corresponding to the courses completed and score at least a four or a five to earn college credits for the AP courses completed. Credits are granted at the discretion of the college. The AP Capstone program is a modified version where students earn a diploma for meeting a defined number of courses and other requirements. Other high schools offer similar tracks through the International Baccalaureate program or the Cambridge Advanced International Certificate of Education program.

High school students should consider the dual enrollment program at their schools especially when the program is a collaborative project with their preferred college. There are many advantages to earning an associate’s degree in high school, some of which are early completion of a bachelor’s degree, tuition savings and the opportunity to start working with college credentials upon graduating from high school.

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