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Regional Lab Offers 6 Strategies to Expand and Improve Rural Dual-Credit Programs

Rural schools often face challenges when they attempt to expand dual-credit programs, which allow students to earn college credit while still in high school. Although these programs can be critical in preparing rural students for higher education, rural schools can lack high school teachers with the credentials to teach dual-credit courses and may not be able to offer a variety of classes.

A new report by the Regional Educational Laboratory Appalachia and published by the Institute of Education Sciences looked at dual-credit programs in six rural Kentucky school districts to determine common obstacles as well as the best ways to expand dual-credit programs in a rural setting. The report found that there is often a financial burden for students who are taking college courses in rural areas and there also may be few options for courses. Many programs lack enough high school teachers who have the proper credential to teach dual-credit courses.

To help rural schools expand and improve programs, the study recommends six potential strategies that states can adopt:

 1.    Increase the number of instructors credentialed to teach dual-credit courses.

Many high school teachers live too far from institutions of higher education where they could earn dual-credit credentials. That also makes it hard for rural students to take courses on a college campus and for college instructors to travel to rural high schools to teach classes. Some rural districts in the study have offered online courses and offer scholarships to encourage rural teachers to earn credentials.

2.    Increase access to dual-credit opportunities

This is directly related to the availability of credentialed instructors and the proximity of college campuses. The study found that schools are often unable to offer additional courses due to a lack of instructors. A 2014 report suggested that states offer courses through an online platform or a mix of online and in-person instruction or allow courses to be taught at a location other than a college or high school.

3. Boost student readiness for college coursework

The study found that rural administrators believe students are unprepared for the rigor of college coursework, which makes it hard to boost participation. One district in the study tried to remedy this by having ninth and tenth grade students take the ACT so teachers could identify areas of weakness earlier than usual.

4.    Ensure dual-credit programs are affordable for all students

Although some districts subsidize all or part of tuition for early college programs, other districts struggle to do this and that can hinder students from taking courses, especially at expensive four-year schools. This fall, juniors in Kentucky will be able to take up to two college courses through a new state-funded scholarship.

5.    Check the quality of courses

The rural districts that participated in the study reported concerns with the rigor of the dual-credit courses and were unsure that the courses adequately reflected college-level work. The authors of the report noted that no district had a solution to mitigate this challenge.

6.    Dedicate staff members to manage dual credit programs

Dual-credit programs require communication between high schools, districts, and institutions of higher education, yet in rural schools with few staff members, it can be challenging to find a facilitator for the program. 

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