Dual Enrollment – Is it a good deal?

Dual enrollment, or dual credit, is the process whereby students in high school enroll in college courses that count for both high school and college credit. These programs are heavily subscribed to in various parts of our state and nation. Some students graduate from high school with both an associate degree and a high school diploma. At W.W. Samuell High School in Dallas, 55 students earned their high school diploma and associate degree simultaneously. But, the efficacy of dual-credit programs are under scrutiny around the nation.

Not all reports are positive. The burden of the costs of dual enrollment falls squarely on some community colleges. For example, Justin Pate, president of Elizabethtown Community and Technical College in Kentucky, said that additional student services and outreach, while valuable to students, were costly to colleges. Typically, the colleges seek aid from the state or local school districts to assist in supporting dual enrollment credits for high school students.

Dual enrollment is 37% of total student enrollment at Cisco College in Texas. Tuition for dual enrollment at Cisco is $68.00 per credit hour compared to $158 for students enrolled directly in Cisco College. Some leaders of community colleges fear that dual-credit courses are reducing traditional post-secondary enrollment at the already enrollment strapped community colleges.

While dual-credit courses were originally intended to help lower-income students and their families change the family trajectory, the Dallas Morning News opined that might not be the result. In Texas, elected officials and school leaders are generally supportive of dual-credit programs. This is demonstrated by the fact that in Texas, dual credit from 2000 to 2017 increased over 750% to 150,000 students. There is a catch:  According to ACT, only 41% of students entering college were prepared.

Rural districts have a difficult time attracting teachers who have the required master’s degree credentials to teach dual-credit classes. Absent qualifications, dual-credit courses might become little more than a high school course with bells and whistles. And dual-credit is especially important in rural communities as a means to encourage college attendance where rates fall precipitously from urban comparison groups. And, who pays the tuition for dual-credit classes varies from state to state and district to district. Close partnerships between school districts and community colleges are important.

The most significant challenge in dual-credit courses comes when students take college-level courses that will not transfer into senior-level four-year institutions. Texans spend $50 million on courses that don’t apply to a university degree program. Senator Royce West has led a charge to address this at the state level in S.B. 25. This bill requires stronger alignment between community college coursework and university coursework. The real solution to the problem lies in the leadership of community colleges and four-year institutions to diligently counsel students about the applicability of courses to specific degree programs. It gets dicey.

For example, a high school student enrolled in a dual-credit algebra course may get both high school and college credit for algebra. However, if the student wants to study engineering in college, the algebra course will not meet requirements in most engineering curriculum where calculus is the entry-level mathematics course. This conundrum exists across the pallet of courses that students take in high school as dual credit and can only be resolved with relentless and transparent counseling and advising.

Ultimately, students need to be responsible for identifying early on the course of study they wish to pursue. This will limit the number of credits lost in the transfer. Some community colleges and four-year institutions have worked conscientiously to help students articulate the transfer of courses so that credits are not lost. West Texas A&M University, in partnership with Amarillo College, Clarendon College, Frank Phillips College and South Plains College, has strong articulation agreements in place, guided by faculty participation and transparency with students. Such agreements, reduce transfer losses and make the process of attaining a baccalaureate degree more cost-effective.

Whether or not dual credit is a good deal or a bad bet is largely a personal matter that comes from attentive and concerned students, families, counselors, teachers and administrators at the high school, community college, and university levels, working together to benefit the student. We forget that at our peril.

Walter V. Wendler is President of West Texas A&M University. His weekly columns are available at http://walterwendler.com/.



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