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States Push to Improve Access, Quality in Dual-Enrollment Programs

A new database shows that 47 states and the District of Columbia now have state laws that allow dual-enrollment programs, with an increasing push for stronger requirements to ensure wide access and better quality.

The Education Commission of the States this week unveiled the database, which explains how each state regulates dual-enrollment programs, which enable students to take college courses and earn credit while they are still in high school.

Although the total number of states with dual-enrollment laws is about the same as 2008 when ECS listed 46, some have been modified or even repealed and replaced to improve delivery and accountability, ECS research shows.

For instance, just 13 states require families to pay for the cost of dual enrollment, down from 22 states in 2008. In 2013, 37 states had requirements regarding the quality of instuctors or courses in their dual-enrollment laws, up from 29 states five years ago.

A growing number of states require participating schools to report on the demographics and success of students in the programs, and to notify parents of dual-enrollment laws.

The introduction to the database on the ECS website notes there is a need for state policy to specify how dual-enrollment programs operate so that districts promote the option for students and funding flows that gives schools an incentive to participate. Also, mandates around teacher training and quality can address concerns expressed by critics that dual-enrollment courses taught by high school teachers may not meet the same level of rigor as courses taught by postsecondary faculty.

State policy also can help ensure that credits may be transferred from one college to another, which can help students in college completion.

ECS reports that just 22 states require acceptance of dual-enrollment credits to a transferring institution. Without such a mandate, students who thought they'd earned college credit can be disappointed when they realize it is not accepted at their school, ECS offiicals said.

The database features a state-by-state analysis, including details such as eligibility, financing, and quality mandates.

Dual enrollment has been around as an option in high schools since the 1990s, with the most growth happening in the last decade. Other efforts, meanwhile, are underway to ensure the quality and rigor of college experiences in high school, such as with concurrent enrollment programs.

Similiar to dual enrollment, concurrent-enrollment programs give high school students the opportunity to take college-credit-bearing courses taught by college-approved high school teachers. (With dual enrollment, students may opt to take the course on a nearby college campus.)

The National Alliance of Concurrent Enrollment Partnerships  has high school and college members in 39 states working to ensure concurrent courses are as rigorous as what is offered on the sponsoring college campus. In 2002, it adopted national standards that include measurable criteria in categories related to curriculum, faculty, students, assessment, and program evaluation. Currently, there are  89 concurrent-enrollment programs accredited by NACEP, including 49 at two-year public colleges, 27 at four-year public universities, and seven at four-year private colleges and universities.

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