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States Take Varied Approaches to Expanding Access to Dual Enrollment

Despite states embracing the concept of expanded access to dual enrollment, new research shows that many have not eliminated financial barriers for students, hampering opportunites for low-income students, in particular.

The report on state approaches to funding dual enrollment by the Education Commission of the States reviewed various policies for these programs, in which high school students can earn college credit. Released May 14, the analysis by the Boulder, Co.-based research organization found states that removed the tuition burden from dually enrolled students had larger proportions of low-income and minority students participate.

K-12_Dealmaking.gifResearch shows that students who participate in dual enrollment are more likely to graduate from high school and college, compared to their peers with similar backgrounds, grades, and test scores. Students also say the experience builds their confidence at doing college-level work and gives them exposure to career options early, according to ECS.

Still, dual enrollment access and financing policies are inconsistent. In some districts, students pay little or no tuition, while in others, the school or college covers the cost. ECS research revealed that in nine states families are responsible for covering the tuition costs for dual enrollment. In 11 other states, the entity that pays depends on the program in which the student enrolls. And in another 14 states, payment is a local decision made by the student's high school, district or partnering college.

(ECS maintains an online database of dual enrollment program policies by state on its website.)

To promote equal access to these programs, despite family resources, ECS suggests states consider funding models where the state or district picks up the tab. This new report examines Florida and Iowa, where districts fund dual enrollment, as well as three states that pay for the courses: Minnesota, North Carolina, and Utah. Drawbacks and benefits exist with both models, ECS notes. When districts pay, they often need to use operating expenses to cover the costs, which can be a hardship for an under-resourced district. Lean economic times can also hurt funding for higher education, making state funding for dual enrollment through community colleges uncertain. ECS suggests there is value in a shared funding model that incentivizes all partners, including K-12, higher education, and students.

The policy landscape for dual enrollment is fluid, as higher education officials involved in dual and concurrent enrollment recently met in Washington to discuss strategies to get federal and state lawmakers to address access to these programs, which are growing in popularity as families look for ways to save on college costs.

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