Dual Enrollment: A Strategy to Improve College-Going and College Completion among Rural Students

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On a national scale, rural districts face a range of challenges: declining student enrollment, declining revenues, technological disadvantages, trouble recruiting and retaining quality teachers, long student commutes, and at the high school level, providing the general academic core curriculum while also offering robust career/technical education (CTE) and advanced academic options. These challenges likewise play out in dual enrollment opportunities in rural high schools.

Rural dual enrollment access looks good on paper – 86 percent of rural public high schools offered dual enrollment in 2010-11, as opposed to 82 percent of all public high schools. However, according to Adam Lowe of the National Alliance of Concurrent Enrollment Partnerships (NACEP), these figures could be misleading. Lowe cited a comparatively low number of well-supported dual enrollment programs in urban districts or limited CTE dual enrollment course offerings with high enrollment rates as possible factors influencing the enrollment reporting.

ECS’ newly-released report, Dual Enrollment: A Strategy to Improve College-Going and College Completion among Rural Students, both outlines and provides approaches for state and local leaders to address the specific challenges rural dual enrollment programs typically face. These challenges include:

·         Securing qualified instructors. Rural districts are less likely to attract and retain teachers with master’s degrees. Yet, postsecondary accrediting bodies and many state policies require a dual enrollment instructor to hold a master’s degree and 18 graduate credit hours in the subject of the course. For many rural dual enrollment programs, long distances between postsecondary campuses and high schools preclude postsecondary faculty from delivering courses at the high school, as is sometimes done in urban and suburban dual enrollment programs.

·         Covering program costs. Multiple states require districts to cover dually-enrolled students’ tuition while, in 17 states, who pays tuition is locally determined. Rural districts losing revenue due to waning K-12 student enrollment may be forced to choose between limiting dual enrollment course opportunities and making staffing reductions.

·         Addressing program logistics. Having a small pool of students means some courses may be combined AP/dual enrollment or dual enrollment/non-dual enrollment, which can raise significant funding and scheduling challenges. And rural high schools are less likely to be able to afford the latest CTE course equipment that community colleges are more likely to have – but that longer distances may make inaccessible.

This report recommends state policies and local (but scalable) approaches to overcome these challenges. For example, to secure qualified instructors, states may consider following Wyoming’s lead. In 2013, the state created the Wyoming Adjunct Professor Loan Repayment Program, which provides funds to help cover course costs for high school teachers earning master’s credits. In exchange, participating teachers repay their loans by teaching at least one dual enrollment course at a public Wyoming high school for two years after completing their graduate credits. Alternatively, states might consider allowing professional development funds to go towards graduate credits needed to teach dual enrollment courses, as Minnesota legislation permits. States could also replicate the partnership between an Ohio-based nonprofit, Battelle for Kids, and 21 Ohio Appalachian school districts to help teachers complete master’s degrees in a blended delivery model on a “teacher-friendly” schedule. The initiative has led to significant increases in both course offerings and course participation.  From 2011 to 2013, participating districts witnessed a 246 percent leap in the number of courses offered in Ohio Appalachian Collaborative schools (from 41 to 142). They also saw a 186 percent gain from 2010 to 2013 in the number of students in these districts taking dual enrollment courses (from 457 to 1,308).

As far as covering program costs, the report provides alternatives to requiring districts to pay (or requiring parents/students to cover costs). These other options include reimbursing postsecondary institutions through legislative appropriation or modeling after Texas law, which allows the Texas Workforce Commission to set aside a small portion of its biennial allocation to support dual enrollment courses that lead to an industry-recognized license or credential in a high-demand field.

And to tackle program logistics, states may weigh approaches such as offering courses at third-party locations, including career centers. In Utah, a 2014 law established Snow College as a hub for statewide delivery of a consistent two-year schedule of dual enrollment coursework via two-way, real-time videoconferencing to multiple locations.

Lastly, the report looks at ways states can help expand dual enrollment access to students at Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) high schools, or near the 32 accredited tribal colleges operating in 12 states. New Mexico seems to be a national leader on this front, with legislation extending dual enrollment program eligibility to students in BIE high schools. In addition, New Mexico lawmakers have created a statewide fund to reimburse tribal colleges for waived tuition and fees for dually-enrolled students.

Jennifer Dounay Zinth is a senior policy analyst and co-director of the ECS Information Clearinghouse at Education Commission of the States.


Photo credit: Flickr

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