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Should Dual-Enrollment Programs Require Courses on the College Campus?

Dual-enrollment programs are considered a promising approach for boosting college completion rates. These programs, such as one I wrote about recently in Indiana, often allow high school students to earn college credits without leaving their high school campuses.

Now the president of Brevard Community College in Florida is questioning whether students are getting the true college experience this way.

Florida Today reported yesterday that Brevard Community College President Jim Drake is considering requiring most dual-enrollment students to take courses on the BCC campus. He suggests that taking classes on campus, taught by college professors, is a more enriching experience.

Melinda Mechur Karp, a senior research associate with Community College Research Center at Columbia University in New York, says there has always been some skepticism about high school-based dual enrollment. "There is this idea that it's not as rigorous because they are high school teachers, or it's not real college," she says. "It's a very common concern. As dual enrollment grows on high school campuses, not that I call it a backlash, but it becomes a more prominent question."

While Karp does not know if there is a formal movement to take dual-enrollment back to the college campus, it is a frequently raised issue, and the discussion in Florida is not an outlier. The growth in dual-enrollment programs is happening at high schools because of the logistical advantage and the ability to offer it to more students, she adds.

High schools teachers need to switch the mindset and structure clearly when it comes to dual-enrollment classes. It's more than just an AP class that has college content, says Karp. Dual enrollment is supposed to be a college course with a syllabus, tests three times a semester, different norms, and a collegiate atmosphere. Karp suggests high schools be proactive to work with their sponsoring institutions to select and train the right teachers for dual-enrollment courses.

As dual enrollment expands, there is also an issue of money. One of the big perks of a dual-enrollment program is that it saves the high school student money by racking up college credits without paying tuition. The Florida Today article notes that in that state, the law requires tuition and fees be waived for dual-enrollment programs, and BCC is missing out on nearly $11.5 million in the past five years. The programs can also cost school districts in textbooks and transportation. The public school system and the community college split the cost of the instructors in the Brevard dual-enrollment program.

With dual-enrollment programs, colleges can boost enrollment without a lot of expense. But after a certain point, Karps notes there is no more return for enrolling students. Campuses cap out and don't get more state aid. Plus, they need to leave room for traditional students. Typically, high school-based dual-enrollment programs make more sense financially, adds Karp.

This week, the superintendent of the Brevard Public Schools and the BCC president will meet to discuss the issues. It's unclear whether money, space, or something else is the driving force in the proposal to shift all courses to the college campus, says Christine Davis, director of communications and public information for the district. About one in five dual-enrollment courses is offered in the high school, usually when classes are full on campus or lab space is required, she said.

The dual-enrollment program in Brevard has saved families about $6 million a year, with 116 students graduating last year with both high school and two-year college diplomas. "Dual enrollment has been one of our very high interest programs and highly supported by our families," says Davis, "They are always happy when they get the bill and they owe zero."

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