Concurrent Enrollment Thriving in Rural Schools Despite Challenges

Rural students are less likely to enroll in college than their urban peers.[i] But new college credit programs have given rural students a convenient alternative path to post-secondary education. Concurrent enrollment programs – high schools offering college coursework – can benefit rural students, given that participation in concurrent enrollment programs increases the likelihood of not only college enrollment, but college completion.

Providing concurrent enrollment programs in rural settings poses a number of unique challenges. Outlined in a study by Jennifer Dounay Zinth of Education Commission of the States, the primary challenges rural schools face are securing qualified instructors, covering program costs, and addressing program logistics.[ii] On September 18, 2014, the National Alliance of Concurrent Enrollment Partnerships (NACEP) hosted a webinar to explore these challenges as well as to showcase successful examples of rural concurrent enrollment programs.

Despite the many challenges facing rural schools, dual and concurrent enrollment programs have grown rapidly. NACEP Executive Director Adam Lowe opened the webinar with a review of data from the National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES). In 2010-11, 86% of rural high schools had dual enrollment options available to students, with student enrollment increasing by 12% from 2002-03.[iii]

Spencer Barzee, Superintendent of West Side School District, a rural district in Southeast Idaho, spoke about the rapid growth of concurrent enrollment in his school district. Since 2000, the number of college credits earned by students at West Side High School has dramatically increased from 30 credits in 2000-01 to 827 credits in 2013-14, and the average graduating senior from West Side High School leaves with almost 20 college credits.

Nevertheless, West Side High School faces many of the same challenges as other rural schools. Barzee explained that the school can’t afford to offer many college courses in addition to high school classes with similar content, so they make sure that concurrent enrollment courses being offered meet students' high school graduation requirements. He shared information on strategies the school uses to advise students in selecting courses that will transfer to and meet the general education requirements of the colleges and universities many of West Side's students attend. He also illustrated the ways the school has identified and incentivized teachers to teach concurrent enrollment courses.

Dounay Zinth offered a number of examples of how other programs around the country are addressing the funding challenge: For example, Texas permits up to 5% of workforce investment funds be reallocated to support dual and concurrent enrollment programs. In New Mexico and North Carolina, postsecondary institutions can be reimbursed based on a headcount of dually enrolled students through legislative appropriation.

One of the biggest challenges facing rural programs is finding enough qualified instructors. Dounay Zinth shared how Wyoming has tackled this issue by creating a loan repayment program. Public school teachers who do not qualify as adjunct instructors for a concurrent enrollment course may receive funding to take additional coursework and then repay the loan by teaching a concurrent enrollment course in a Wyoming public school for at least two years.

Pamela Allen of Ohio Dominican University presented Ohio’s unique model for increasing the number of qualified teachers. The Ohio Appalachian Collaborative (OAC), a group made up of 21 districts in the Appalachian region of Ohio, has partnered with Battelle for Kids to provide funding for high school teachers to take graduate hours. OAC has also worked with a collaborative of five universities to create teacher-friendly masters programs. These programs can be completed in 18 months and involve limited travel time and costs so that they are accessible to teachers who live in rural areas. As such, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of concurrent enrollment courses offered, students enrolled in those courses, and teachers who are credentialed to teach concurrent enrollment in Ohio.





OAC Districts Offering Dual Enrollment




Credentialed Teachers




Courses Offered




Students Enrolled




Source: Battelle for Kids

Rural districts may be limited by certain logistical constraints, including a lack of access to equipment, increased travel times to postsecondary institutions, and a small pool of interested and qualified students. In order to overcome these challenges, many schools have explored using videoconference, online coursework, or offering courses at third-party locations. NCES reports that distance education represents 11% of dual enrollment coursework in rural schools, but the primary means for delivery (69%) continues to be in the high school or career center classroom.[iv] This makes college courses more accessible for students who may live far distances from partnering postsecondary institutions.

For more information on the challenges and opportunities of delivering concurrent enrollment in rural schools, individuals may listen to NACEP’s webinar, Creating Quality Concurrent Enrollment Programs in Rural Schools.

Kimberly Mobley is the Director of Communications & Membership Services for the National Alliance of Concurrent Enrollment Partnerships (NACEP).

[i] National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, High School Benchmarks Report, October 2013

[ii] Dounay Zinth, J., Dual enrollment: a strategy to improve college-going and college completion among rural students, Education Commission of the States, June 2014

[iii] Gray, L., Lewis, L., Marken, S., & Thomas, N., Dual Credit and Exam-Based Courses in U.S. Public High Schools: 2010-11, National Center for Education Statistics, February 2013

Tiffany Waits, J. Carl Setzer, and Laurie Lewis, Dual Credit and Exam-Based Courses in U.S. Public High Schools:2002-03, National Center for Education Statistics, April 2005

[iv] Gray, L., Lewis, L.,Marken, S., & Ralph, J, Dual Enrollment Programs and Courses for High School Students at Postsecondary Institutions: 2010-11, National Center for Education Statistics, March 2013


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