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Dual-Enrollment Programs Draw Increased Attention From Policymakers

Taking college-level courses in high school can be a big money saver to families in states that charge little or no tuition for those credits. But as dual-enrollment programs soar in popularity, so do the costs—and somebody must pay the tab.

In a new Education Week article, I explore a range of activity happening at the state level and some discussions at the federal level to address issues of cost, access, and quality with dual-enrollment programs. Although the format of dual enrollment varies, students typically can participate by taking the credit-bearing courses in high school classrooms, on college campuses, or online.

Most frequently, the cost of dual enrollment is absorbed by postsecondary institutions, according to the National Center for Education Statistics reports. But the arrangements vary widely by state and the landscape is fluid as policymakers work to share the costs while maintaining access.

The Denver-based Education Commission of the States recently developed a set of 13 model state-level policy components for states. These include making sure that: state law is "unequivocal" that all eligible students may participate; all students and families are provided with program information, so not just the "best-connected" parents pursue it; tuition costs do not fall on parents; and courses meet the same level of rigor as those taught to college students at partner postsecondary institutions.

Many states are acting to expand capacity. Vermont lawmakers last year doubled state funding for dual enrollment from $400,000 to $800,000, so that high school juniors and seniors may take two courses for free instead of one. The state will cover 50 percent of the cost with local districts to cover the rest, said John Fischer, the deputy secretary in the Vermont Agency of Education.

Since the change, the participation in dual enrollment has grown from 6 percent to about 12 percent. This growth exceeded the funding for the program, prompting the state to re-purpose some money to cover the costs.

"We have one of the highest high school graduation rates, but are at the lower end of college participation," Fischer said. "While the public education system is working diligently to get students up to the readiness level, as much of a hurdle is raising aspirations and the cost of higher education."

The Ohio General Assembly mandated a working group study dual enrollment and make recommendations regarding policies and funding. The group is asking for more transparency around funding and a new model that would share the cost between higher education and local districts. The group also put forward proposal to address quality, including a requirement for professional development for teachers and site visits by colleges to make sure the courses are college-level, said Charles See, the chief of board and external relations for the Ohio Board of Regents.

The proposal is now before lawmakers, who have until the end of June to act.

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