Monday, March 13, 2017

 

Financial Aid for Dual Enrollment


Why is there no financial aid for dual enrollment classes?

This should be a no-brainer.

I’m using “dual enrollment” here to cover both “dual” and “concurrent” enrollment programs.  Either way, high school students take college classes and get credit for both high school and college.  The idea is to encourage students to raise their aspirations, and to get some college credits under their belts.  (In the case of “Early College High School” programs, they may even get an associate’s degree before graduating high school.)  

Dual enrollment can serve multiple purposes.  For low-income students and students from really struggling school districts, it can be a means of escape.  For extremely talented students, it can be a way to maintain academic challenges after they’ve bumped up against the ceiling of what their high school can offer.  (For the math whiz who takes AP Calculus as a sophomore, dual enrollment as a junior is much more productive than just sitting on her hands for two years.)  For students for whom high school is a social nightmare, dual enrollment can be a lifesaver.  And for most students, dual enrollment can show selective institutions that a given student is academically serious, and capable of doing demanding work.  

For high schools that are struggling with tight budgets, dual enrollment could be a way to maintain a rigorous honors program.  It can offer subjects that high schools generally can’t.  

And it can be a welcome antidote to senior-itis.  That’s all I’ll say about that.

But dual enrollment students aren’t eligible for financial aid.  Unless they’re lucky enough to find a grant-funded program -- like Brookdale’s Poseidon program with the Neptune school district -- they (or their families) have to pony up.  That effectively rules out many students who would otherwise benefit, including some who would benefit the most.

It’s a shame. We have plenty of high schools and high school students who want to try college classes. We have colleges that are happy to oblige. We have financial aid programs, like Pell grants, to help low-income students. But we can’t connect the dots.

As long as students or their families have to pay full freight, even at community college tuition levels, we’re effectively ruling out many students from working-class families.  These are precisely the students who could benefit the most from getting a head start on college while living at home.  Instead, they’re confined to high school while their friends, who had the foresight to be born to wealthier parents, leap ahead.  

What social good that achieves is beyond me.

I suppose someone might object on the grounds of double-dipping, but that strikes me as short-sighted.  For students who would go on to college anyway, they would get both kinds of support anyway.  For those who wouldn’t, we’re achieving a much larger social goal.

Dual enrollment isn’t for everybody; that’s not my argument.  But it should be an option for everybody.  And making it an option for everybody necessarily means making it affordable to people who don’t have thousands of dollars at hand for each kid.  That’s most people.

The new administration seems to like big, bold ideas, so here’s one.  Why not make dual enrollment classes eligible for financial aid?



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