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Dual Enrollment Boosts Rural Students' Access to College Courses

Although no research has been done specifically on dual enrollment in rural schools, existing studies have shown those areas present unique challenges and opportunities.

The Regional Educational Laboratory Appalachia held an hour-long webinar in late September called "Increasing Access to College Preparatory Courses in Rural Communities through Dual Enrollment." This is a significant issue for rural schools because of their especially low post-secondary enrollment rates when compared to other geographic areas.

The presentation featured a researcher, a K-12 administrator, and a state assistant superintendent. Studies have shown dual enrollment, when implemented well, can lead to positive results, such as encouraging college readiness and completion.

Melinda Karp, a senior research associate at Teachers College at Columbia University in New York City has written extensively on dual enrollment. She described it, for the webinar's sake, as students who are enrolled simultaneously in high school and college courses that generate a college transcript and credit.

Dual enrollment can be done in a myriad of ways (i.e. taught on a high school campus vs. a college campus: by a high school instructor certified as adjunct, or by a college instructor), and she said researchers don't yet know whether there's an ideal model.

They have found the key to developing a strong program is to ensure that it's authentic or mimics a college environment and that it's supportive for the enrolled students.

One of the biggest challenges rural schools face is the distance between high school and college campuses, she said. But that's also an opportunity because rural schools can use their faculty or distance-learning technology to deliver the college coursework, Karp said. She said most places don't provide transportation for students.

Rural schools also can be challenged by the small number of students wanting to take a certain course, but that's an opportunity in that teachers know students and can better tailor instruction and support for them, she said.

One rural school district with a successful dual enrollment program is Halifax County Public Schools in Halifax, Va. Melanie Stanley, an assistant principal of curriculum, talked about its experience.

Sixty-three percent of Halifax students participated in dual enrollment courses, and 91 percent of seniors graduated with college transcripts. Seventy-four high school students received an associates degree when they graduated from Halifax County High School.

To make the program sustainable and efficient, the district's leadership has encouraged high school teachers to become college adjunct professors, which cuts down on transportation costs. The vast majority of students said they benefited from the courses, and the vast majority of parents said they would recommend them to others.

Virginia has had a statewide plan for dual enrollment since 2005, and it was signed at that time by the K-12 leader and the head of the community college system. High schools must offer at least three college-level courses through either Advanced Placement, dual enrollment, or International Baccalaureate.

A new state law will require each community college to spell out for nearby high schools how students can complete an associate's degree or one year certificate of general studies.

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