Wednesday, May 24, 2017


Financial Aid for Dual Enrollment

I offer this idea freely to anyone running, or thinking of running, for office.  I won’t even ask for attribution.  

Let financial aid be used for dual enrollment.

In plain English, students who have graduated high school (or attained an approved alternate, such as a GED) and are American citizens without drug convictions are eligible for financial aid for credit-bearing college programs.  (There are more asterisks, but the statement is broadly correct.)  But students who are still in high school while taking college courses -- typically called dual or concurrent enrollment -- aren’t.  

This one’s a head scratcher.  

For present purposes, I’ll set aside the issues around drug convictions and citizenship status.  They’re both real issues with disparate impacts across race and class, fully deserving of examination in their own rights.  But for now, I’ll just focus on dual enrollment.

Dual enrollment programs can be effective ways to improve college completion rates and reduce student debt.  They offer greater academic challenge than most high school curricula, and can offer students affirmation that they are, in fact, “college material.”  In some cases, that affirmation alone makes a meaningful difference.  College completion rates for first-generation and low-income students who are offered dual enrollment opportunities are higher than the rates for similar students who aren’t.  

Done well, it’s a win.  When local high schools team up with a community college -- as Middletown, Wall, and Keyport high schools did this week with Brookdale -- they can offer their students a chance to avoid senioritis and get a head start on building transcripted college credits.  

But right now, unless there’s a donor or a local program, students who would have been eligible for Pell after graduating high school have to put cash on the barrel for dual enrollment.  

That rule is almost perfectly designed for maximum harm.  It targets the students who benefit the most from dual enrollment, while having no effect on the more affluent students.  It forces low-income students, who are often in academically weak high schools, to wait it out, while their better-off peers get a jump start.  

Pell for dual enrollment would open up college classes for more students under terms they could actually afford.  It would enable more districts to participate, too, because they could reduce their own instructional costs without having to put money towards the students’ college tuition.  

I’m guessing that the rule about Pell is an accident of history.  These programs are often created with less forethought than one might like, and revisited mostly in the context of finances.  When the program started, in the early 1970’s, most community colleges were less than ten years old.  Dual enrollment was relatively rare, and student debt lay mostly in the future.  (“Free community college” was a reality at CUNY and in California at the time.)  I don’t fault its founders for not thinking of it; there’s no reason they would have.  But the world has changed since the early 70’s.  Income polarization has grown, good jobs for people without degrees have become scarce, and college costs have exploded.  In the early 70’s, this might have been a solution in search of a problem.  Now the problem is staring us in the face.

So kudos to Middletown, Wall, and Keyport for joining Raritan, St. John Vianney, Neptune, and Asbury Park in working with Brookdale to offer dual enrollment.  And any political candidates who would like to curry favor with working class parents who want the best for their kids -- not a small group -- could pick up a big win here.  Reduce local taxes, support your local community college, and help students get a jump on college: you could do worse.  Any candidates who want it, are welcome to it.  I won’t even ask for a footnote.

I have a simple question: Have you ever bothered to read our comments?

Your Pell proposal would have the effect of hurting students in my state, because I am sure the legislature would change existing rules and shift costs from the state to loans and Pell if your idea was adopted. That would reduce long-term Pell availability for those poor students, because each semester used while in HS is a semester that is gone forever.

In my state, the schools are required to pay all costs for a student's education, whether the class is taught by a public HS or by a CC or university. And they do pay for tuition and fees and books for CC classes. I am unclear whether they pay for transportation. (I see a school bus once in a while, so they might, but the ones I know all drive themselves.) Why my conservative low-tax state does this and your liberalish high-tax state does not is your own business. But I would not like to see this program take state school money away from the top students in our schools.

The only gain I see is that poor students could use Pell to pay living expenses (i.e. the welfare part of Pell) while in HS. That would help their families, but would likely result in running out of money before they finish a 4-year degree. That does not look like a good deal to me.
The Washington state dual enrollment model (known as Running Start) redirects funding from public high schools to community colleges on an FTE basis to pay CC tuition. DE students are still responsible for fees, books, and transportation, and those are real barriers, but there are some waivers available for low income students and some CCs have set up book funds or textbook lending programs.

There are students who successfully complete the associate degree while still in high school, but that's not the majority. Using up Pell eligibility while in high school seems like it would create a new barrier to enrollment and completion after high school.
Also, the opportunity to study under the Pell (and any others) is the goal of many foreign students who are experiencing even greater difficulties, starting with language problems. And for many, this dream remains unattainable. But there are ways to achieve this goal and we write about it on our website Here you can get a quick answer to all your questions.
I'm concerned that this would cause top students to exhaust their Pell eligibility earlier, possibly on classes they don't need or should not have taken.

I'm looking at this particularly in the context of math classes. Consider a student who is a high school junior, plans to major in something STEM-ish in college, and is ready to take pre-calculus. Really, their high school should be teaching them this - it's a reasonable high-school-level course. However, this is also taught at the 100 college level as something like "college algebra" or "elementary functions". I'm fine with the idea of a high school junior taking it for college credit, but they should not be wasting their Pell funds on this class when they'd place into (at least) calculus by the time they "really" got to college if they kept taking high school math until then, and having that class "for credit" won't actually help them with their grad requirements, they just need it as a prerequisite for calc.

I could probably find other examples, but as a HS math teacher, that's the one that jumps out to me immediately.

I also worry that they'll take classes that'll end up being "free electives" after transfer if this isn't done thoughtfully, with all of the attendant problems.

You'd really need advisors from the college to be much more involved in vetting choices made by dual-enrollment HS students than they probably are now.

Excellent point, Anonymous@4:08pm, especially about advising, although you got the details about college math wrong. (See below.)

In my experience (teaching them calculus-based physics), the only students who really benefit from taking lower-level math at a CC are either at the limit of home school parents, attend a small HS with dubious math faculty, or are ready to take College Algebra in middle school and would be bored or ill-served with the pace of HS classes. Now the ones who jump from HS Algebra II to one semester taking both trig and pre-calc followed by a semester of Calc I as a junior and then Calc II and Calc III as a senior are going to way ahead of the HS alternative you propose. Might also be done with two semesters of basic chemistry and ready to take organic chemistry and physics as a college freshman.

That said, no one ever mentions that students who fail to learn the material earn an F in a college class rather than a post-extra-credit B in a HS class. Look at the number of students who pass their AP class but fail to get a C for college credit on the AP exam! Getting a college F with your Pell money is not helpful.


College Alegebra is not pre-calculus, although it is the only pre-calculus requirement for what we call "Business Calculus" (but isn't really calculus). It is close to the rigorous one-semester HS Algebra II class that I took, but with some Algebra I content.

Our college pre-calculus class is really just College Algebra Plus, attempting to raise the bar in algebra skills but lacking most of what was in my full-year HS course (which was based on Dolciani's "Analysis" text). It doesn't have trig as a pre-req, so it can't include any analytic geometry or take a holistic approach to inverse functions and it does not cover limits. We actually recommend it as a pre-req for trig.

Our trig class comes close to my rigorous one-semester HS class, but doesn't get to the polar representation of complex numbers. I don't know if they do derivations of trig identities on exams in the college class, but I doubt it.

All 3 of the above are required to start in calculus. A student starting in College Algebra can complete them in two semesters, but most take a full calendar year. That said, there is a test that will allow them to skip over any of those that they already know.
@CCPhysicist: This may be a state-to-state difference: In my state (Oregon), the sequence goes: MTH 111 (College Algebra) is the prereq for MTH 112 (Elementary Functions) which is the prereq for MTH 251 (Calc 1) or MTH 241 (Calc for non-scientists). Students who understood everything in a rigorous Algebra II class in high school would be well-prepared for MTH 112 (which covers things like a deeper look at radian-based trig, parametric equations, vectors, polar coordinates, etc.) whereas one who took pre-calc/trig/analysis/whatever we're calling it this year in high school (which is also the high school class where this stuff is covered) would ideally be prepared for calc when they got to college instead.

I'd see nothing wrong with having a dual-credit Algebra II/MTH 111 option instead of an existing "honors" option or a dual-credit pre-calc/MTH 112 option instead of an existing "honors" option (I used to teach pre-calc and many seniors would refuse to take it because they only wanted to take AP classes as electives to help their GPA since we weighted those differently than non-AP classes, so they'd just not take a math class senior year since there was no AP math below calc, and I'd particularly rather see dual-credit than see that particular stupidity continue), but I wouldn't want to see students spending Pell eligibility on them when they'd need to take calc in college either way so they wouldn't really "get" anything for having that college credit except some elective credits (which are pretty useless) and maybe a more rigorous course in high school due to external pressure (which, in my opinion, we should be teaching anyway - I always teach Algebra II with the intent that an A or B student will place into MTH 112 and pre-calc with the intent that an A or B student will place into calc).
We also have a course that combines pre-calc and trig, but weaker students are advised against it. The better students also have the choice of taking pre-calc and trig at the same time.

Although good HS classes do prepare them to go directly into calculus, my CC requires them to pass a placement test spefically for college level (distinct from developmental skills like fractions and arithmetic) to do so. Universities usually just take the HS course name at face value and put them in calculus.

I hear you about AP classes. One of the challenges we face is that the students want that 5.0 average that no one actually cares about and the schools want the AP count because they get brownie points from the state towards their school ranking. So given a choice between advising a student to take AP psych (thus getting more money from the state) or DE calculus 1 and 2, they send the STEM kid to the psych class. IMHO, changing that incentive system is more important to growing STEM majors than Pell money.
Based on the comments, this would only make sense in the context of increasing the duration of Pell eligibility. Is that a realistic prospect? Because giving a bit of extra time to account for setbacks might be a real gain.
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