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Title

Varieties of Dual Enrollment

The models are proliferating, and all have strengths and weaknesses.

August 29, 2019
 
 

Over the last several years, dual enrollment and its variations (concurrent enrollment, middle college, early college…) have grown wildly. I’ve noticed folks on campus, myself included, struggling just to theorize what’s happening. So, based on direct observation and participation, a few varieties of dual enrollment:

Come to Campus. This is the simplest model to explain. High school students get to the college campus somehow, and take classes along with everybody else.  Historically, this model was focused on high-achieving students who had bumped up against the curricular ceilings of high school or homeschool. That would be the math prodigy, or the Lisa Simpson type who blasted through AP classes early and was otherwise out of things to do. Depending on scale, this model can exist almost without most people noticing. When it grows, there can be issues with high school students clustering in particular sections, or with different expectations around certain kinds of content in some social science areas. But the core of the model is pretty simple.

Send the Prof to High School.  This can be logistically difficult for the college, since high school class schedules (and vacation calendars) are often quite different from college, but the concept is straightforward.  When the mix is right, this model can work quite well.  

Deputize High School Teachers. The advantage of this model is that it gets around the logistical issues of the “send the prof to high school” model.  If the instructor already teaches in the high school anyway, then class schedules aren’t an issue. (There can be issues with the high school teachers’ unions, but that’s not my domain.)  The major challenge here is teachers’ credentials. If you typically insist on a Master’s or higher in the discipline, most high school teachers won’t meet that. Alternately, sometimes a school will have a single teacher in a given field that meets the criterion; if that teacher takes another job or goes on medical leave, the program has to shut down. Many teachers will have a bachelor’s in the discipline and a Master’s in education, which is not the same thing.  

AP/IB. In AP and IB, students can be taught by high school teachers with high school credentials; college credit is determined based on a score on a nationally or internationally normed exam.  This isn’t usually considered a form of dual enrollment, but the outcome for the student is often similar. In this model, the college isn’t involved until the exam grade comes in, and the college gets no revenue. This model has several advantages. It gets around the ‘teacher credential’ issue entirely; as long as the students perform well on the exam, nobody asks who taught the class. It also leads to scores that are portable from school to school. There’s general agreement on what a “5” in “BC Calculus” means. Historically, this model has tended to target high achievers, although that’s becoming less true than it once was.  

Prior Learning Assessment/Credit by Examination. These are variations on the AP/IB model, but without standardized tests. They’ve long been used in areas like the performing arts, where students are often asked to audition. I’ve seen several four-year colleges in my area move to a wholesale PLA model in high schools, essentially having teachers teach to the college’s learning outcomes, and then having students take final exams designed and graded by college faculty. For an English course, it might involve a portfolio of papers; for a science class, a portfolio of lab reports to go along with an exam.  This model allows both for ignoring faculty credentials and for customizing assessments to a given department’s standards. The downside is that idiosyncratic assessments may not be as portable as, say, AP scores or transcripted grades.  

Dropout Prevention. I saw this model in the Gateway to College model at Holyoke; we do a variation on it with the Poseidon program with Neptune High School here.  In this model, students identified as high risk for dropping out of high school are put into college classes, ideally on the college campus. It sounds counterintuitive, and I’ve seen some faculty bristle at the concept, but it can have remarkable effects. This model works really well for students who are bright enough to succeed, but for whom the pressure-cooker social environment of high school is toxic. A change of scene can work wonders.

Early College/Middle College. These models lead to either 30 or 60 college credits before graduating high school. They’re usually very prescriptive, by necessity. They can save students tremendous amounts of money, and can help students who might not see themselves as “college material” to gain confidence.  Maintaining cohorts can be tricky, and students in these programs may need more -- and more directive -- academic support than the typical 18 year old. But when students from economically challenged families start with a year or two of college credits under their belt with no debt, the effects can be life-changing.

Dual Credit. In order to graduate with both the high school diploma and a college degree, many courses have to count towards both. That can create an issue when a student fails a class. It’s one thing not to get college credit; it’s another to imperil high school graduation. Models in which the assessments are separate -- AP/IB, PLA, Credit-by-Exam -- get around that issue by making it possible to pass the high school course without getting college credit.  Any cohort model has to be built on the assumption that some students are going to fail some classes; what do you do when that happens? Under the principle of “first, do no harm,” we don’t want to generate high school dropouts.

The models are proliferating, and each brings its own challenges. For example, textbook purchasing cycles tend to be much longer in K-12 than in higher ed; I’ve had conversations with superintendents who were upset that a given class changed books after “only” three years, as opposed to their customary seven.  (To my mind, that’s argument #57678 for OER.) When state aid is based on FTE enrollments, there can be issues with defining who gets credit for the FTE. At a more basic level, for models other than the first one, issues of classroom climate can arise.  And we can’t offer as wide a set of possible majors. That’s because the students have to fulfill both high school and college requirements, and often because specialized facilities don’t exist everywhere. (Most high schools don’t have an Automotive Tech facility that can compete with ours.  The room of transmissions alone…)  

For many community colleges, dual enrollment has become the only thing standing between it and layoffs. It has gone from “interesting” to “nice to have” to “essential” in just a few years. But attitudes and practices haven’t necessarily caught up across the board. Dual enrollment offers parents significant monetary savings, which is great, but it also provides a solution to the widely-acknowledged but rarely-spoken issue of the barren senior year of high school. And to the extent that it opens up the real possibility of college to low-income students -- and the sense of oneself among students that they are, in fact, “college material” -- it can be a real force for social mobility.  But administratively, it remains a bit of the Wild West.

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