More on concurrent enrollment’s value for students

Some months ago, I wrote about concurrent enrollment programs, high school courses that allow students to earn college credits for the work they do at their home high school¹.

In my local school district, students can take courses through Tompkins Cortland Community College. TC3’s Concurrent Enrollment Coordinator, Rhonda Kowalski-Oltz,  told met that on average, students from participating schools earn 10.3 credit hours. (The minimum full-time load student load at TC3 is 12 credit hours per semester, the average course load for a full-time matriculated student is 14-16 credit hours per semester.)

This spring, Kowalski-Oltz, said,  20 concurrently enrolled students will complete associate degrees  (either AA or AS²)  at TC3. All are transferring into four-year colleges as either juniors or second semester sophomores—a huge cost savings for them.

The associate degree advantage

The students who get AA or AS degrees, either when they complete high school or later, may get another benefit as well.

A 2014 Community College Research Center study found students who get a transfer-oriented associate degree before transferring to a four-year institution were 20-percentage points more likely to get their bachelor’s degree within four to six years than those who didn’t complete their AA or AS first.

The CCRC study’s authors say reasons for achievement advantage AA and AS degree holders have may result from the efficiency of transfer-oriented programs in avoiding credit loss upon transfer. It might also result from more subtle factors such as the perception that students who earned an associate degree have the skills and attitudes needed to complete a bachelor’s degree.

As long as students choose courses or sequences with an eye to what will be accepted at the school to which they plan to transfer, dual enrollment courses appear ideal for students planning to continue their education to the bachelor’s level or beyond.

The non-campus advantage for colleges

Dual enrollment also appears to be good for community colleges that accept the penny-pinching, bachelor’s degree seeking students.

I think it’s safe to say TC3 wouldn’t have operated the concurrent enrollment program for so long if it weren’t profitable.

If the students taking college courses at their high schools were enrolled on campus, they would have paid tuition, of course, but the college would also have had to provide instructors, classrooms and laboratories, heat and lights, auxiliary services, and parking places.

If the students had taken distance learning classes, they would have paid tuition. But then college would also have the attrition problems attendant upon distance classes in addition to the cost of instructors, technology, and support services for both instructors and students.

Between 2003 and 2013 the number of high school students participating in dual credit programs at TC3 increased from 2,879 to 8,448, according to Inside Counts, a publication of TC3’s Institutional Research Department, fall 2013 issue. The publication goes on to say this:

The impact [of concurrent enrollments] on TC3, while mostly invisible on the main campus, has been huge in terms of enrollment numbers (Figure 2). As regular credit enrollment declined from a peak in 2010, concurrent enrollment increased to fill much of the gap. In 2003-2004 concurrent students made up approximately 12 percent of the total FTEs (Full Time Equivalent unit equal to 30 credits) in TC#’s budget. By 2012-13 it was up to close to 21 percent of the College’s FTEs.

Winner for baccalaureate-bound

On the whole, dual enrollments look like a good deal for both the high school student seeking an affordable four-year degree and a community college looking for a way to attract students who can bolster its degree-granting success.

Unresolved question

The question that still bugs me is the question of fairness.

Are career-oriented students getting an equivalent degree of help preparing for the workplace as their baccalaureate-seeking peers are getting in preparing for college?

Do the Career-Technical Education (CTE) students get comparable support for a vocationally-oriented associate degree program as students going into more academically-oriented programs?

Do the articulation agreements between CTE programs and community colleges actually reduce the cost of an associate degree for students?

Are taxpayers, especially those in rural and less-desirable urban areas, well-served by programs that help their best students become the next generation of taxpayers someplace else?

I don’t have any answers, but I have some suspicions.


¹In some cases high school students take college courses on a college campus for dual credit, but typically they take courses at their high school.

² AA and AS degrees are designed for students planning to transfer credits to a four-year institution.  A third type of two-year degree (an AAS, for example) marks the conclusion of students’ vocational education prior to their entering the workforce.

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