Rising Popularity of Dual Enrollment Programs

About 34,000 California high school students took credit bearing community college courses in 2014. This year, nearly 50,000 high school students took at least one college course, a 47% increase. This number is set to explode in the years ahead.

For good reason: dual or concurrent enrollment allows high school students to take college level classes at the local community college or their high school and use the units earned to satisfy both high school and Associate’s degree requirements.

Emma Centeno of Santa Ana Middle College High School, which is on the campus of Santa Ana College, was one of sixty students who finished last June with her high school and Associate’s degrees. This fall, she will enroll in UC Davis as a junior, majoring in Food Science.

Prior to this year, students in traditional high schools had to travel to the local community college and take courses after school or on Saturdays. Additionally, if they were under 18 years old, they had to have special waivers from counselors, teachers or parents to take community college courses, and they were legally limited to 11 units per semester.

Today high school students can take up to 15 units per semester, the standard load, with access to tuition-free courses, many offered on their high school campus.

The changes are a product of Assembly Bill 288, the College and Career Pathways Act, which went into effect in January. One of the sponsors of the bill, Assemblyman Chris Holden, stated upon passage, “Concurrent enrollment can motivate students who aren’t on the college track and provide opportunities for students who want to get started in their careers earlier by working towards a degree or certificate in career studies.”

There are 112 California Community College campuses and many have or will be offering dual enrollment programs to surrounding high schools. Irvine Valley College (IVC) began its Early College Program in 2007, which now includes Beckman HS, Tustin HS, and El Toro HS (in Lake Forest). The program was initially set up to assist high school students in gain their Intersegmental General Education Course Certification (IGETC) and Associate’s degree. After the first class, this was scaled down to just the IGETC certification, but that’s sufficient to gain 2 years of college credit.

Yet, we’ve barely touched on the positives surrounding the dual enrollment. First off, if a student is weak in certain areas, such as writing or math, in the normal cycle of high school to college, this would likely require remediation. In dual enrollment, students are introduced to college rigor at an earlier age,  encouraging them to address these issues early.

Better still, in dual enrollment students will be able to sample classes not available in traditional high school curriculum. At Long Beach CC, for example, students can sample classes in astronomy, anthropology, sociology, geology, and philosophy, courses not usually offered in high schools.

Moreover, by sampling a number of offerings in high school, students gain a better sense of potential majors. Considering well over 70% of students change intended majors by the end of their Freshman year, broad exposure to a range of subjects in high school might improve major selections.

Lastly, college level courses can allow curious students to take classes that will explore more deeply areas of interest. So, a student interested in Biology can take classes at IVC in Molecular Biology, Stem Cells, or Genetics and Evolutionary Biology.

Of course, there are concerns with pursuing dual enrollment. The student does need to be ready for college level work, meaning studying 2-3 hours for each hour spent in the classroom, taking responsibility for getting help if topics aren’t grasped, and for adhering to the requirements of a course syllabus. Should students get a failing grade, they will be permanently on their record.     

Despite possible downsides, the promise of dual enrollment encourages the ACT to make a ‘Multiyear Pledge’ to expand dual enrollment to all eligible students at as low a cost as possible. It makes sense: dual enrollment promotes achievement in high school and blurs the distinction between high school and college, placing the focus on learning.