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Reports from Policy Analysts

The (Empty?) Promise of Dual-Enrollment

Submitted On: Monday, February 6, 2017

Analyst: Espinosa-Aguilar, Amanda

Dual-enrollment programs have been steadily gaining ground across the country.  According to an article by Catherine Gewertz in Education Week, "About 1.9 million students—11.4 percent of the secondary school population—were taking some form of dual-enrollment course in 2010-11 . . . up from 1.2 million in 2002-03." These classes are nearly always taught by high school instructors, in high school classrooms. Students earn credit toward both high school and college by completing them. At least that is the theory.

Many students (and their parents) are actually discovering that these credits/courses are not guaranteed to transfer to a four-year school, and especially not to private institutions. And when the credits do transfer, they often count merely as elective or general education credits.  Many students are being told outright, or incorrectly assume, that by completing dual-enrollment courses they will shave as many as two years off of the time and expense it takes to complete a traditional four-year Bachelor's degree. However, according to the Education Commission of the States, only about half of the existing programs in the US actually have agreements in place that require public two- and four-year colleges to accept or transfer the credits earned from dual-enrollment programs.  This, of course, varies from state to state, and widely between public and private institutions.  For instance, alumni of the University of Connecticut's Early College Experience program "lost 13 percent of their credits, on average, when they enroll[ed] in college." The evidence seems to suggest that many four-year colleges do not believe that the high school-taught courses are rigorous enough to warrant equivalent transfer credit.

Lack of rigor also seems to be an issue with other early start programs similar to dual- enrollment.  Another of these in wide use is Running Start, where high school students are concurrently enrolled in first-year college courses, taught by college faculty, usually at a community college. In these courses students as young as 15 or 16 come to a college campus and take l00 level courses along with traditional first-year students. Their registration is not marked in any way that their instructors or fellow students would know whether they are Running Start or not. Unfortunately, far too many Running Start students, like their collegiate counterparts, are placed into first-year courses based on standardized testing, such as the COMPASS exam, which is widely criticized for its inability to accurately assess a student's writing ability. To make matters worse, in some areas, such as Washington State, these test scores are used to place students into college-level courses after having been allowed to discontinue any English or writing courses after their sophomore year of high school.  Some college instructors find that a number of their Running Start students do not have the social maturity skills to match their academic preparation to be in a college environment.  These students may not be performing up to level because they were never required to completed junior nor senior English courses.


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