Tuesday, February 16, 2016

After Dual Enrollment

What happens to students after dual enrollment?

Dual Enrollment and Early College High School programs are gaining ground in the Northeast, having already established themselves as popular choices in much of the Midwest and South.  They come in a variety of flavors, but the general idea is that students in high school can take college classes for transcripted credit.  Frequently, the college classes also meet high school requirements, so a student taking a college-level math class is simultaneously fulfilling her high school math requirement.  

In some cases, high school students complete so many college credits while in high school that they graduate with a high school diploma and an associate’s degree at the same time.  (Given the differing lengths of school year, sometimes the college degree comes a month or so before the high school diploma!)  Typically, programs in which students can earn the entire degree are called “Early College High School,” while programs with an a la carte approach are called dual or concurrent enrollment.  For simplicity, I’ll lump them all under “dual enrollment.”

The appeal of dual enrollment is severalfold.  For a high school, it can offer a way to keep high-achieving students from bolting for private schools.  It can also offer an alternative to AP or IB, both of which base success or failure on a single high-stakes test.  For parents who are concerned about cost, dual enrollment is usually less expensive than traditional college attendance, and unlike AP or IB, actually results in transcripted college credit.  For students, dual enrollment can offer a differentiator, a potential cost savings, and a way around what is often a relative academic wasteland in the senior year of high school.  High-achieving students have frequently done most of what they can do in high school by the senior year; spending a year in a holding tank while dreading college costs is a lot less appealing than just getting on with it and saving thousands of dollars.

That said, because my region is relatively new to the idea, I’m curious about how ECHS grads are treated when they arrive at four-year colleges.  They sort of fall between categories.

Are they freshmen?  They’re the traditional age for freshmen, and in terms of dorm life, they’re largely interchangeable with other 18 year olds.  But academically speaking, they’re juniors; they more closely resemble transfer students than “native” freshmen.  

That may seem like a picky distinction, but it matters.

Many scholarships, for example, are geared towards freshmen.  Some -- though far fewer -- are geared for transfer students.  (I’d LOVE to see more scholarships for transfer students, but that’s another post entirely.)  Depending on how a student is defined, her eligibility for scholarships will vary.

Many four-year colleges put “study abroad,” internships, or co-ops in the junior year.  A student arriving as an 18 year old junior confounds some of the expectations of that model.  “Welcome to campus!  You already missed the deadline for some great stuff!”  

Athletic eligibility may be limited, though I’ll admit that’s really not my wheelhouse.  I’ll leave that one to the folks who know it better.

Are they considered “first-time, full-time” for purposes of institutional graduation rates?

A colleague at a four-year school mentioned to me recently that his school is considering adding a third (and possibly fourth) year for these students and building in a Master’s degree.  That way they don’t have to start “adulting” until twenty-two, like everyone else, but they still reap a tangible reward for their efforts.  I’ll admit being intrigued by that one.

A couple of weeks ago I asked how dual enrollment students fare at admission.  This is the next question: what happens after they get there?  Any wise and worldly readers at four-year colleges that have been dealing with this for a while are invited to shed light.  In my neck of the woods, we’re still sort of figuring it out.