3 common barriers to dual enrollment—and how to overcome them

Dual enrollment programs have allowed millions of students to earn college credits during high school—and they're still growing, Jodi Helmer reports for University Business.

However, some experts have concerns about dual enrollment programs. There is currently little research into student outcomes for the programs, according to Davis Jenkins, senior research scholar at the Community College Research Center at Columbia University. But the popularity of the programs means they aren't going away anytime soon.

Helmer rounds up three of the most common concerns about dual enrollment programs and ways that colleges have responded to them.

Concern #1: Students aren’t ready

In some states, high school students can start dual enrollment as early as ninth grade, while others start dual enrollment at eleventh grade.  Some experts worry that college-level work is too advanced for students of that age—who also generally lack access the robust academic resources of a college campus. "Even students with the right test scores and GPAs might still not succeed," according to Jason Taylor, assistant professor of higher education at the University of Utah.

To ensure students are ready for early college programs, some states now require participants to:

  • Take certain pre-requisites;
  • Obtain written approval or letters of recommendation; or
  • Meet minimum GPA requirements.

For example, Vermont-based Johnson State College screens dual enrollment applicants about as rigorously as it does degree-seeking applicants. To participate, students must complete an application, submit a transcript, obtain a recommendation letter, and participate in an interview.

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Concern #2: Credits may not count towards degrees

The problem isn't that dual enrollment credits can't be transferred, Helmer writes. A 2016 survey by the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers found that 86% of institutions accept dual enrollment credits.

The bigger problem is that dual enrollment participants don't take classes that count for the majors they choose later, Jenkins says. Only 73% of students' dual enrollment credit is accepted by their intended major, according to The Greater Texas Foundation, which awards scholarships to dual enrollment students.

He suggests that colleges improve academic advising for dual enrollment students by steering them towards core courses. Taking core dual enrollment courses that every major has to take would ensure they transfer appropriately, according to Jenkins.

Concern #3: High school teachers may not be ready to teach college-level courses

In some dual enrollment programs, high school instructors teach the college-level material. And they don't always receive much training before doing so. "Most schools vet credentials, but it’s not uncommon for high school instructors to be handed a syllabus and sent off to teach," says Adam Lowe, executive director of the National Alliance of Concurrent Enrollment Partnerships (NACEP).

NACEP requires high school teachers to participate in training and professional development. High school teachers also receive mentorship from college faculty, who occasionally observe the early college classes.

Other institutions, such as Missoula College­­-University of Montana, require high school instructors to have the same credentials as faculty members. But finding teachers with the right credentials is challenging, says Jordan Patterson, dual enrollment program director at Missoula College. He calls it "the hardest thing" about offering early college programs (Helmer, University Business, 9/20).

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