Dual credit or concurrent course credit allows high school students to take courses to earn a high school diploma and college credit simultaneously. Strong opinions abound on both sides of dual-credit discussions. This approach especially helps poor and first-generation students. The discussion heats up when any student—rich or poor, gifted or challenged—graduates receiving a high school diploma and an associate’s degree concurrently.
In some states, community colleges offer dual credit; in others, senior institutions participate. There are many permutations. In the Texas Panhandle, 22 students graduated from Borger High School and Frank Phillips Community College simultaneously in 2017, and 11 of them enrolled at West Texas A&M University. The 17- or 18-year-old high school/community college graduates-, having selected courses carefully, enrolled in junior-level classes at senior institutions. This is where contentious discussions start.
Questions regarding emotional maturity, watered-down college credit, genuine college readiness from an intellectual and emotional standpoint and a multitude of other concerns are legitimate. However, if dual credit in high school affords early and serious career, study and readiness assessment, students will likely benefit from thoughtfully applied dual credit.
Growth in dual-credit subscription is born in a number of places. Chief among them is the increasing cost of university attendance. High prices and perceived stagnant quality drives students and families toward a deliberate, personally managed approach to reducing the costs of education.
While visiting high schools in the Texas Panhandle, I met a young man who within one week was simultaneously graduating from both Bushland High School and Amarillo College. In front of the audience, filled with 200 of his classmates, I offered him a WT scholarship. He declined the offer on the spot. I asked him why. “I will be attending Columbia University in the fall,” said he. I asked him if he had a scholarship. He replied, “I have a full scholarship.” I responded, “I cannot compete with that,” and then I asked him of the 60 dual-credit hours he earned, how many would transfer. He said, “Six hours would transfer.” Clearly, the efficiencies and pragmatics of gaining a degree in a shorter time were not his first priority. After the assembly, the principal affirmed to me that he was one of the brightest students she had ever met.
One student looks for challenges, while another seeks expediency and some pursue both. Variety in student motivation exists at every turn. Public universities must be responsive to a wide range of student interests and aptitudes, including the costs of education. It is our business. Policies, exaggerated expectations and legislative pressures for the past half-century imprudently advocated that everyone should go to college, even if they were neither motivated nor prepared.
Coupled with irresponsible lending, universities frequently focus on income generation, which is sometimes masqueraded as social concern rather than student well-being. The marketplace is voting with its feet. Dual credit can reduce time and cost without sacrificing quality. The value of an excellent educational experience, if too much debt is incurred in achieving it and too little benefit is found in its attainment, is under assault on many fronts. Careful analysis confirms this. Further, according to Brookings, “jumbo” student loans spray gasoline on the fire like the housing bubble.
Dual-credit programs are growing rapidly. The Dallas Independent School District determines that soon thousands of students will graduate from Dallas ISD with earned associate’s degrees. These are not necessarily junk degrees, but opportunities to increase access and reduce the cost of higher education. Many of these combined degrees are rigorous and thoughtful. The wave is coming. University leadership can resist it; they may claim it inferior or antithetical to a “real” university experience. Histrionics fail. The marketplace is at work, and the motivation in many cases is that these community college degrees are at low or no cost to the student.
The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) has proposed that 60% of all Texans ages 25-30 will have earned some type of post-secondary credential by 2030. The THECB has defined dual credit’s role. This is an ambitious goal. It is a serious commitment to improve the quality and nature of the Texas workforce. Business as usual is failing.
Dual credit with “wailing and gnashing of teeth” will become part of the solution. The measures of student ability, indicators of grading procedures and mastery of subject matter all contribute to serious challenges that universities, community colleges and secondary schools must address. In some states, such as Minnesota, efforts are afoot to require the preponderance of high school students to take at least one dual-credit course. This could be an enlightened approach if the dual-credit courses meet rigorous intellectual standards.
As dual-credit students enter universities, especially WT, quality measured by academic achievement and attainment of life aspirations will be tracked carefully. We owe that to our students, communities and state: It is a public responsibility.