Assessing Dual Enrollment


In an article for University Business magazine, Jodi Helmer addresses the question “Is early college working?”

She provides the following broad statistics:

In 2002, 1.2 million students were earning college credits while still in high school. A decade later, the number of those participating in dual enrollment courses had almost doubled, hitting 2 million, according to the most recent federal data. . . .

Colleges and universities in 47 states engage with school district partners to offer dual enrollment programs, in which courses are taught on college campuses, at high schools or online.

She then focuses on the issues related to the growth of these programs:

A lack of data collection and analysis on the effectiveness of specific programs is one source of criticism. Instead, anecdotal evidence has driven the belief that these programs work. Other critiques have emerged as well, but several institutions offering dual enrollment are working hard to ease concerns and develop stronger programs. . . .

Concern: High school students are not prepared for college-level classes. Response: Assess readiness and provide supports.

Concern: Dual enrollment credits might not be counted. Response: Provide academic advising on course selection. . . .

Concern: Academic rigor suffers when high school instructors teach dual enrollment classes. Response: Vet instructors carefully and also train them. . . .

In each section of the article, Helmer provides both informed opinions and selective statistics that illustrate facets of the issues and some of the effective ways in which they have been addressed.


The article also includes this infographic:


Those who have very deep concerns about dual-enrollment programs will justifiably view this article as heavily slanted in favor of dual enrollment. In seeming to address some of the continuing concerns about the programs, the article largely highlights specific efforts to address those concerns–thereby suggesting that they are being addressed effectively on a much broader scale when, obviously, the exact opposite may be equally possible if not much more likely.

I personally work with several dual-enrollment teachers. They are qualified to teach lower-level undergraduate courses; in fact, several have taught as adjunct faculty at my campus. But I know that they are not typical, either in our state, where the requirements for participating high school teachers have only recently been more strictly defined instead of being left to institutional discretion, or in other states where the requirements are still very loosely defined.

As readers of this blog are aware, there are studies that have suggested that dual-enrollment students are less prepared for college and have lower degree-completion rates. None of these are more than very amorphously acknowledged in the article.

Moreover, some of the major issues with this program are simply ignored. One of those concerns is the impact that these programs are having on institutional budgets. Dual-enrollment is framed as a way to reduce the cost of college for students. But the same legislatures that are latching onto this “easy fix” are not typically making any adjustments to state subsidies to colleges and universities—that is, they are ignoring that the revenue from general-education or core courses supports the offering of higher-level undergraduate courses and graduate programs and they are not accounting for the loss of tuition revenue and subsidy that colleges and universities receive. Since the institutional costs are relatively fixed, the gap between revenues and costs will inevitably be passed on to students as increases in tuition. This problem is now publicly apparent in some institutional budgets where the fiscal margins are narrower, but it will inevitably become much more widespread even if the programs continue at their current level because the effects of the lost revenues will compound.

At this point, the easiest way out of this conundrum is to have colleges and universities offer the courses to the high schools at a discounted rate that the participating students will pay, with the cost for economically disadvantaged students being subsidized by the state. This sort of arrangement would create an incentive for restricting the programs to students who are adequately prepared academically. Although this solution will only partially restores revenues to colleges and universities, it will do so without cutting the revenues going to the high schools.


Jodi Helmer’s complete article is available at:


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