The Case for Dual Enrollment

Some universities have declared a cold war on dual enrollment.

  1. You can see why, financially. Students are enrolling in courses not only at the community college level, but even at the high school level, and argument goes something like this: The students pay community colleges for the courses, and at a smaller price, that they should be paying for at a university.
  2. But it’s not just about the money. There are high standards for college level courses, and those standards should be met whether a student takes them at State, Community, or High. Not all high and community school programs (or teachers) will offer classes at the necessary level of rigor. It is a prerequisite, after all, not a product.
  3. There’s also the argument that high school students will be scared away from college because the course is too rigorous.

Granted, all these are serious issues. Colleges need funding to offer education. Discount price should not mean discount learning. No student should be frightened by an opportunity pressed upon them too early in their career.

Nonetheless, dual enrollment is a necessary opportunity whose benefits outweigh the drawbacks. First, let’s reexamine the cons:

  1. Although transferred credits are classes paid for elsewhere, the bigger picture is the investment in education. A school is not to be seen primarily as a product-oriented business, but an investment-oriented venture. As a university, you’re not just charging for courses and a degree, you are sharing an investment in the future. This is why education should be cheaper than it is, and why it should be based less on affordability and more on ability. When that student graduates, your world, hopefully, is going to experience what they have to offer. A community college knows this.
  2. Dual enrollment classes that do not carry out classes with the academic standards necessary to equate with college are not a reason to abandon the entire idea of dual enrollment altogether. They are only reasons why dual enrollment should be held accountable. A few bad apples should not spoil the whole bushel. Teachers are capable of teaching high standards to high school students who are truly ready, and many high school students are truly ready for college level work. Rather than discount the opportunity, monitor it.
  3. Students get scared of the work they have to do. It’s daunting. But that’s life, that’s challenge. Students need to face the reality of college level work before they find themselves about to drop out after four semesters, loaded in debt for nothing. Dual enrollment is one way to test their readiness before they even enroll. Students are sometimes mistakenly identified as so gifted and successful that college is presented as an obvious choice. These students need to discover early what the challenge is like. Dual enrollment is meant for students who are ready for college level courses early, not students who are almost ready.
    Going back to the financial explanation, a university can only hold so many students, based on class size and dormitory size. If you’re so worried about losing money from transferred credits, how much money do you think you’ve lost from a student who drops out after enrolling? That is an empty dorm space and an aborted tuition package. If a student is not ready for college, let dual enrollment courses tell them this. There are other education options for students not ready for college.

In addition to the counterargument against the cons, there are other reasons why dual enrollment is beneficial enough to be warranted, even from the university’s perspective.

  1. Dual enrollment acts as a ward against the “senior slump” experienced by many gifted upperclassmen. The last thing students ready for college before graduation need is a semester or more of being bored. They need stimulation that motivates and prepares them for the academic environment they are seeking in the near future. Extra-curricular activities can provide this to a degree, but dual enrollment, when taught properly, simulates college level classroom work and keeps students active in those remaining months before summer.
  2. With dual enrollment getting many classes out of the way, students can choose to graduate early, or take advantage of other courses their university has to offer. This can save the student money, but it can also give a student more room in a schedule to take another course outside their major, either for career perspective or just for good ol’ enrichment.
  3. Since so many schools are supporting dual enrollment, it makes little sense for others not to, from a competitive standpoint. If you view education strictly as a financial market, then it makes good marketing sense to support dual enrollment. Students who dual enroll get an edge when applying to universities. There is no reason for a high school, if able, to deny these opportunities.
  4. Life is short, and we need doctors, and less lazy kids. Some degrees, like a Doctorate in Medicine, take a long time to get. Help students spend less time (and money) in school to eventually earn the degrees that can help them contribute to the world. If a student can spend less time enrolled in school, yet still receive the same quality education, it benefits everybody, and it gives them, if they want it, less time on a campus and more time moving ahead in their career.

I teach dual enrollment English. I am happy to provide this opportunity to my students. Universities who deny the credit transfer are not ones I look up to. I would love to teach them about why they need to get with the program, but they apparently know enough already. How juvenile.

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