Dual Enrollment: The Good, the Bad, and the Potentially Ugly, Part II

This is the second part in a three-part series written by NCTE TYCA Chair, Eva Payne. See Part I. 

Eva_blue_coatEven with stable funding, the rapid expansion of dual enrollment creates problems of equivalency on several fronts. For example, while supporting the growth of dual enrollment, the ACT report (2015) acknowledges, “critical determinants of college and workplace success” include “critical thinking, collaborative problem solving, behavioral skills such as persistence and self-regulation, and education and career navigation skills.” The ACT report assumes that DE enhances these essential student attributes. However, one of the frequent criticisms of DE is student maturity and the unreasonable expectation that a sixteen- or seventeen-year-old have college-level ability for reasoning and critical thinking. The barrier of age is ignored by some states like Florida, Ohio, and California that are offering the option of DE to children as young as twelve.

Maturity is just one hurdle in maintaining equivalent experiences between DE and the college experience on a college campus. The lack of support services for DE students such as advising, writing centers, tutoring centers, college libraries, and instructor office hours makes success more difficult for all students. Support services are essential for underprepared students.

Without supports in place, student readiness becomes even more important. The ACT report (2015) addresses this: “Student eligibility requirements are based on demonstration of ability to access college content.” The statement stops short of the NACEP standards that require equivalent placement tests regardless of where the college course is taught. ACT’s “Condition of College and Career Readiness(2015) offers statistics for the most recent high school graduates taking the ACT test:

  • 42% were ready for college-level mathematics
  • 38% were ready for college-level science
  • 28% were college ready in four areas: English, reading, mathematics, and science.

The ACT percentages resemble statistics at my college for students placing into writing courses for the years between 2008 and 2013:

  • 46% tested into developmental writing
  • 19% tested into college-level, first-year composition

If dual-enrollment credits are truly equivalent, ACT specifies that DE has to have “Course Quality” and endorses NACEP standards:

  • Courses have the same content and rigor regardless of where they are taught.
  • Instructors meet the same expectations as instructors of similar traditional postsecondary courses, and receive appropriate support and evaluation (8).

Two of Oregon’s four-year universities thwart equivalency and NACEP standards by awarding college credit based on proficiency. The sponsoring college or university creates a professional learning community with college faculty and high school teachers who are not required to have the requisite graduate credit hours or degree to teach transfer-level courses. Because the grades are awarded on proficiency, the use of college curriculum and college textbooks is not required. High school students participating are not required to take a placement test, and their access to college-level science laboratories and college library materials is limited because they are not registered as college students until they receive a passing grade.

Such contrasting circumstances create stark differences in the grades awarded students in first-year composition classes taught at Chemeketa Community College by full-time faculty, Eastern Oregon Promise, and Western Oregon University, the replication grant partner with Willamette Promise. However, unless these students are tracked as they move forward, it is difficult to tell what these differences mean.

Eastern Promise (2013), during the first year of the portfolio evaluation, reported a 47% failure rate, and the report indicated that 25% of that failure was due to plagiarism. The Willamette Promise/Western Oregon University success or failure rate is harder to gauge because they register students only after their portfolios are judged to be something above a “C” grade, so none of their students failed. A system that forestalls the possibility of failure is not equivalent to the grading systems at these institutions for their college students.

Dual enrollment Chart

The Willamette Promise Annual Report (Ketcham, 2015) statistics bundle all 3,609 credits awarded for the year. Writing courses made up 1,036 of the credits, nearly one-third of the college credits conferred in 2014-15. The grades above for Willamette Promise are an estimate based on grades for all courses rather just the results of first-year writing courses. The details of the portfolio evaluation were not published when this paper was written.

A noteworthy difference between college perceptions of attendance and Willamette Promise perception of attendance for their DE students was highlighted as “certainly a hidden benefit” because they were able to confer college credit to 69 high school students with chronic absenteeism (Ketcham, 2015, pg. 37). Awarding credit to chronically absent students is not equivalent to the experience of college students taking courses on most college campuses.

Eva Payne, National TYCA chair, teaches at Chemeketa Community College in Salem, Oregon. 

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About Lu Ann McNabb

Lu Ann Maciulla McNabb is the Policy & Alliances Associate for the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE). Lu Ann has long been an advocate for teachers, students and education. As Thomas Jefferson so eloquently said, "Education is the anvil upon which democracy is forged."

2 thoughts on “Dual Enrollment: The Good, the Bad, and the Potentially Ugly, Part II

  1. I teach Dual Enrollment Comp I and Comp II on my high school’s campus. We also offer DE Bio, DE Marine Bio, US History I, and US History II, and an elective course called Skills for College Success. All of the teachers for these courses at the high school have to demonstrate to the college that they are qualified to teach college level courses by having a Master’s degree with 18 credits or more in the subject area that is being taught. All of the current DE teachers at my school also teach courses at the local college from which our students receive their credits. Our high school students do have to take a placement test (PERT) and achieve a score high enough to demonstrate their academic ability, and they must also maintain an over-all unweighted GPA of 3.0 or higher. Students may also take classes at the local college after age 16, and many have gone on to graduate with their AA before they have graduated from high school. My colleagues and I strive to maintain the same academic expectations for our high school students as those in our night classes. Most of my high school DE students, however, have greater academic success than those in my night class because they are held to a higher standard by our district. The state has removed some of the required placement test scores for the regular college students, but for the DE students, any time, their GPA goes below the 3.0, even if it is a 2.97, they are not permitted to continue taking Dual Enrollment courses until they raise their GPA. Occasionally, I will have students from other local high schools take my night class, and, almost without exception, the DE students are just as serious, and have better writing skills to begin with than their college-student classmates. One of the biggest benefits of DE for these students is the fact that they can take many of the pre-requisite courses they will need for the four-year schools, or even earn a full AA degree, but not have to pay for them or for textbooks as all of this is provided through the school district and the state. For many of the students at my high school (with over 50 percent free/reduced lunch), this is a great thing for them as they already will struggle to get enough financial aid to finish their four-year degree. I can see both sides of the coin, and I do see where we are pushing our students to achieve much more at an earlier age than some of them are capable of handling, but most of my students take the 12 to 15 college credits, along with other high school classes, and hold down jobs as well. So many of them have already decided where they want to go to school after graduation, and many of them come back and say that they felt much better prepared for the experience of the four year college having taken the DE courses. Just the other evening, the media specialist at the college thanked me. I demand that my students use the online library resources and the online learning portal that the students at the college use. When they do take courses on the college campus, they don’t feel lost, not knowing what to do when they have to submit papers online or when they need to ask a professor a question. They have full and complete access to the college’s resources including the physical library and the Learning Center tutoring services. Yes, I know the system is not perfect, and there probably are a few who aren’t as mature as others, but I have seen some of my most awkward students take on a new sense of maturity and develop a greater social presence after having taken a course or two at the college. As you can probably tell, I love my job, both at the high school and at the college. I love to see the growth the students demonstrate, and I am thrilled when someone comes back to tell me what they are doing since they graduated high school. Just the other evening, I had a parent come to my classroom who is a college student, and she said she just had to come see me to let me know that her son is in his last year of college, and working for a major broadcast company as an intern. For those who aren’t quite ready or self-disciplined, and who do fall below the 3.0 after taking DE courses, it really serves as a wake-up call for them for what will be expected in the future. Maybe that’s a good thing to have happen in high school, before they get to college, so they can change their thinking and understand that they don’t want to be unprepared for the real-world of college.

  2. Hi Shirley,
    I read your response how you make DE effective at your school. When I have taught it, my students did not have access to the electronic library system so often I opened it using my login and PW so my students could conduct research in the the classroom. One reason, I stopped teaching DE was when my school chose another college, going from a public community college to a tribal community college with a lower bar of entry.

    The three-part article on DE rings true for me because I noticed the short comings of a program in theory sounds achievable but in reality created altogether different outcomes.

    Thank you for sharing how you make DE a brilliant resource. Your district is fortunate to have you to support learners.

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