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Dual Enrollment: Taking College Classes in High School

Suzanne Shaffer

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Dual enrollment (also called concurrent enrollment) programs allow high school students to take college courses and potentially earn college credit while they’re still in high school.

The high school or school district partners with an accredited college or university. When my daughter was in high school, seniors were allowed to attend specific classes at the community college in town. At the end of each semester, they received college credit for the courses they completed as well as high school credit — hence the term dual enrollment, simply meaning one course counts in two places.

There are several benefits to dual enrollment programs. Research shows that students who participate in dual enrollment programs are more likely to graduate from high school, enroll in college, enroll full-time in college, earn higher grades, and graduate from college. They are also more likely to obtain a bachelor's degree than an associate degree or certificate.

Saving for College compiled a list of several studies showing students who take dual enrollment classes are much more likely to be successful in college than students who do not:

  • A study from Columbia University revealed that 88% of students who took dual enrollment classes went on to enroll in college at ages 18–20. Of those students, 46% of those who enrolled in community college and 64% of those who enrolled in a four-year college earned a degree within five years.
  • University of Texas study found that students with dual enrollment credits were twice as likely to remain in school than those who entered college with no credits.
How Does Dual Enrollment Work?

Partnerships vary by high school. Some programs are taught at the high school, with the teacher providing instruction for college-level courses. Other programs, like the one at my daughter’s school, send students to a local college campus. You might also find a program where a college professor teaches within your high school.

The most common program is students learning within their high school from a teacher on staff or an adjunct professor who provides instruction. Data from the National Center for Education Statistics indicates that most dual enrollment students take classes at their high school, compared with one in five on college campuses.

Depending on what’s offered at your student’s high school, students may earn only a few college credits or enough credits to earn an associate degree from the community college. Even though only a few credits may be offered, it’s worth considering as an option. If your student can enter college with college credits under their belt, they are ahead academically, and you are ahead financially (saving money on expensive college credits).

Who Pays for Dual Enrollment?

Each state varies as far as who pays the cost of dual enrollment. Some states actively encourage students to participate by paying all the costs. Other states require students to pay for college credits.

Since dual enrollment price tags differ from state to state, you should check with your student’s high school counselor to determine the cost. You should also factor in the cost of textbooks and transportation to the college if required. High schools usually partner with local community colleges that offer more affordable credits to keep the costs down. If your state doesn’t cover the cost, ask the counselor if there are scholarships available for dual enrollment classes.

How Does My Student Participate?

High school students are usually selected to participate in the dual enrollment program after accessing academic qualifications. Your student’s high school counselor can explain the types of programs available, costs, and eligibility requirements and answer any questions you might have. The length of the program will determine the age or grade level your student can enroll.

Eligibility requirements vary by state and even by district or high school. Some states have state-set requirements for standardized test scores, high school GPAs, or other elements. Others require students to have completed a particular series of high school courses. Some require teacher recommendations.

Students can compare state eligibility requirements on the Education Commission of the States website.

How Will Dual Enrollment Affect College Admission?

The obvious benefit is saving money on expensive college credits. Compare the cost per credit hour at a community college ($141) to the average cost of credits at a four-year public university ($390) or a four-year private university ($1,492). This is a tremendous saving toward your student’s bachelor's degree.

In addition, participating in dual enrollment may offer an admissions boost. Participating and passing a dual enrollment course signals to colleges that a student can handle college-level courses and be ready for the academic transition.

How Does It Compare to Other College Credit Options?

Students can earn college credit in several ways. They can take Advanced Placement (AP) or International Baccalaureate (IB) exams. They can also use the CLEP (College Level Examination Program) to earn college credit. All these require the student to get a certain grade on the exam to receive college credit, and not all colleges accept these exams as credit.

If your student enrolls and completes the dual enrollment program and your state has an agreement to accept transfer credits, your student is guaranteed college credit. Generally, colleges are more likely to give credit for general education requirements, so most high schools offer those courses to students in the program.

Are There Reasons My Student Shouldn’t Participate?

Evaluate your student’s schedule. If a dual-credit course interferes with their other classes or extracurricular activities, adding additional coursework may not be wise. The course should enhance your student’s resume but not at the expense of affecting other classes and grades. This will be college-level work and require college-level attention and studying.

Dual enrollment courses are college courses for real college credit. The grades will go on your student’s permanent college transcript. Before enrolling, be sure your student is ready for the demanding work — failure could negatively impact their transcript.

Finally, be sure the credits will be accepted at the colleges they are considering. For each college, check to see how many credits a dual enrollment class will earn your student. The credit policy will depend on the school. If the course won’t be accepted, reevaluate the benefit of dual enrollment and consider AP classes instead.

Considering Dual Enrollment?

Dual enrollment is a way for your high school student to get a head start on their college education. By taking college-level courses, they are introduced to the level of academics they will soon be encountering as they pursue a bachelor’s degree. The increased rigor of these courses will prepare your student for college, boost their resume, and improve their admission chances.

In addition, if the program is offered at a local college, your student will be able to experience what it’s like to attend an actual college class on campus. Not to mention, you can save money on the high cost of college by taking those basic requirements at a reduced cost.

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Suzanne Shaffer counsels students and families through her blog, Parenting for College. Her advice has been featured in print and online on Huffington Post, Yahoo Finance, U.S. News College, TeenLife, Smart College Visit, Road2College and more.
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