I’ve been thinking about dual enrollment courses lately.
My musing was prompted partially by the Obama proposal to give high school graduates two free years of community college, partially by a new report from the Education Commission of the States, and partially by an item in my local school district newsletter about its program’s success.
Dual enrollment or concurrent courses are classes taken by high school students for which they receive both high school and college credit.
Usually the higher education institution is a community college. Less often it is either a public or private college or a proprietary school.
In most cases, the college courses are taught at the students’ home schools instead of on the colleges’ campuses.
Financial benefits for students
In view of the high costs of college, dual enrollment courses are an attractive option for students and their families. The post-secondary institution doesn’t charge students tuition.
Ambitious students whose home high schools offer the courses they need through concurrent enrollment can graduate high school with two years’ worth of college credits for which they did not have to pay.
There are other savings as well. Students don’t have to pay some of the fees students enrolled for only college credit must shoulder.
They don’t live on campus, so they save on dormitory costs.
And, since in most cases the instruction is delivered on the high school campus, students save on transportation costs.
Students who graduate high school at age 18 with two years of college credits could have their bachelor’s degree at age 20 with only a fraction of the outstanding debt of those who take four years to go through college.
Academic benefits for students
The academic area is where things get murky.
Publicity materials for concurrent enrollment programs emphasize that that being able to take remedial work in the familiar environment of their home school is helpful for students with skill deficits. They make a similar argument in favor of home-school advantage for students who don’t have people in their home circle who have attended college.
It is certainly a fact that the more remediation students need at the post-secondary level the less likely they are to succeed in college. I’m not sure, however, that a remedial course at the home school will be any more beneficial than remedial course in a college classroom. (I’ve had students in my first year college composition classes who had taken remedial English on campus; they were still not ready for college composition.)
The value to be derived from of acclimating disadvantaged students to the college environment by seating them in high school classrooms also strikes me as suspect. Even if the course in the high school setting is every bit as good as the one on the college campus, students still are not having a college experience.
Classes that meet on a less-than-daily schedule and classes that meet for longer time sessions are college features that students typically don’t experience on a high school campus.
More important is that the high school environment rarely provides the diversity of a college campus, even if the two are in the same city. The experience of working with people different from yourself is one of the key experiences of college.
The final academic question is whether the courses taught at the high schools are every bit as good as the ones on campus.
That is a tough question to answer.
Nationally, only 11 percent of academically-oriented courses and 14 percent of career-technology education courses are taught by college faculty, according to the National Center on Education Statistics. The vast majority of the concurrent enrollment courses (61 percent of academic and 67 percent of CTE courses) are taught by high school faculty.
That does not mean the high school teachers don’t know their material or are not good teachers.
It does, however, raise some questions about whether they can teach high school students at the college level.
My local school district gets its college credits through Tompkins Cortland Community College, TC3. Here’s how the process works, according to the TC3 website.
A local school teacher applies to the college for authorization to teach specific courses at his/her home school. The college’s website says:
Many instructors find that courses they teach, or hope to teach, can be adapted to align with TC3 courses. For example, many 12th grade Honors English teachers offer ENGL101 and even ENGL102, Regents chemistry may be aligned with CHEM101 and 102, and a government class may be adapted to meet POSC103 expectations.
If accepted—the college has a list of minimum teacher requirements for each course—teachers must follow a master template for the course. Here’s a link to the mater template for the first half of TC3 first year English, ENGL100.
TC3 requires faculty to file copies of their course outlines with the college. It also assigns faculty liaisons observations to assist concurrent faculty. (I’m assuming someone other than John Updike does the English course observations; he’s not on the TC3 staff roster.)
I’ve just touched the surface of aspects of the concurrent courses that need some more investigation.
I’ll hold that for another day.
If you’re interested in this topic, I recommend Jennifer Dounay Zinth’s 2015 report written for the Education Commission of the States: http://www.ecs.org/clearinghouse/01/17/16/11716.pdf
[corrected broken link 12-Nov-2015; corrected broken link 2016-01-22]