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    What is Dual Enrollment?

    March 31, 2021 | Staff Writers

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    For high school students that have already decided they want to pursue a college education, participating in a dual enrollment program can be one of the best ways to get a head start. Dual enrollment programs are also a great fit for high school students that want to challenge themselves at a higher academic level. 

    If a high school student wants to explore subjects not covered at the high school level or get a head start on their post-secondary education by earning college credits, a dual enrollment program could be the perfect option.

    On top of this, a recent national study conducted by the National Alliance of Concurrent Enrollment Partnerships, or NACEP, revealed that students who participated in dual enrollment programs went on to earn college and university degrees at much higher rates than high school students who did not. 

    As online options make dual enrollment programs accessible to more high school students than ever before, it is no surprise that their popularity is increasing at a rapid rate.

    How Dual Enrollment Works

    If you are a high school student or the parent to one, and a dual enrollment program sounds like an appealing pursuit, you most likely still have some questions. This is where we can help clear things up.

    To help you decide if applying for a dual enrollment program is the right decision for you or your child, we will explain what they are, how they work and list some of the benefits they can offer. To offer a balanced perspective, we will also examine the potential disadvantages of participating in a dual enrollment program.

    We will also discuss admission requirements and how they can vary from one state to another. From there, we will also look at some of the best online dual enrollment options out there.

    What Exactly is a Dual Enrollment Program?

    In simple terms, dual or concurrent enrollment is a system by which select students are allowed to enroll at two academic institutions at the same time. More often than not, this refers to high school students who enroll in select college courses while they earn their high school diploma.

    Usually, the student earns credits through a dual enrollment program will count towards their high school graduation requirements. Once the student graduates from high school and is accepted into a college program, the credits they earned through the dual enrollment program can also be applied to their graduation requisites. A high school student could potentially reduce the amount of time it would take to earn their college degree in the future.

    Dual Credits:

    The majority of dual enrollment courses that a high school student can apply for are dual credits. Essentially, this term refers to college-level courses that will count as academic credits at two institutions simultaneously: the student’s high school and at a college or university that is willing to participate in that particular dual enrollment program.

    As mentioned above, this unique learning opportunity can give a student a head start on college. It can also allow them to sample college-level coursework, which will help them decide if they would like to apply for college after they earn their high school diploma.

    Dual credits are available in a wide variety of academic disciplines, including, but not limited to, English, math, chemistry, biology, physics, visual art, and music.

    What Does a Dual Enrollment Program Look Like for the Student?

    Dual enrollment programs are available in a few different styles, so one student could have a very different experience to another. The three main types are as follows:

    On-Campus Dual Enrollment Programs:

    Some dual enrollment programs involve having the high school student attend in-person classes at a nearby college or university. While this can be somewhat intimidating for the student and does require more commuting than the other options, it does allow the student to fully immerse themselves in a college environment. 

    Spending time on a college campus and gaining first-hand experience in college lecture halls will allow the student to sample the college lifestyle and make a more informed decision on whether or not they would like to apply to a college or university after they graduate from high school.

    More precisely, it will help the student decide if they want to apply to study at that particular institution. For many reasons, not least of which is the financial benefits, most people who pursue a post-secondary education do so at their local college or university. 

    Having the opportunity to spend a significant period on a local campus before deciding if they want to study there on a full-time basis can be one of the most effective ways to determine if the student’s local school is the right fit for them. If the student decides they do not enjoy their experience on that particular campus, they can always tour schools that are further away. 

    Given how expensive a post-secondary education is, it is always better to apply to a school where the individual knows they will enjoy their time and student experience. In this way, a dual enrollment program that is held at a local college or university can act as a trial run, or test drive, for that particular institution.

    Another advantage of dual enrollment programs offered at a nearby campus is that the courses are taught by a college professor the student meets in person, which is not usually the case with online options. 

    In many cases, these professors can also write recommendation letters for students who perform well in the class, which can prove to be incredibly valuable when it comes time to apply for college.

    High School-Based Dual Enrollment Programs:

    As the name suggests, high school-based dual enrollment programs are completed at the student’s high school or another high school within their same school district.

    These programs offer students the convenience of tackling the challenges of college-level courses from a familiar setting. Usually, the courses are taught by qualified college professors who travel to the high school hosting the program. In other cases, a high school teacher that has been approved to teach the course will provide instructions and carry out the lectures. 

    Unlike on-campus dual enrollment courses where the students are mixed in with full-time college students, the courses hosted by a high school are composed of high school students.

    While these programs are much less intimidating and offer the convenience of learning in a more familiar environment, the student does miss out on the opportunity to experience life on a college campus. This can be a matter of personal preference, as some young students are comfortable taking classes at a post-secondary institution while others would prefer to take on college-level coursework from the comfort of a high school classroom.

    Online Dual Enrollment Programs:

    While dual enrollment programs were traditionally only offered on campuses and through participating high schools, online programs are growing in popularity. Not only do the online dual enrollment programs make things more convenient for the students, but they are also making the programs more accessible.

    Now high school students that do not live within a reasonable distance of a participating college or university have the opportunity to apply for a dual enrollment program and begin earning college-level credits by studying online.  

    Unsurprisingly, the convenience and independence that goes with learning at home are rather appealing to many students. In many cases, even those that have the option to study on a nearby campus, or in a high school classroom, will choose an online option.

    Online dual enrollment programs are also an excellent option for home-schooled students. As long as the homeschooling meets all of the state requirements for high school education, the student should be eligible to apply for an online dual enrollment program.

    If you are interested in an online dual enrollment program, you can check if one is offered through your local post-secondary institution or one of the larger state schools. We will also discuss some of the best online dual enrollment programs at a later point in this guide.

    Qualifications for Dual Enrollment

    While dual enrollment programs are appealing, it is not a given that a student will be eligible.

    Grade Requirements for Admission:

    Typically, dual enrollment programs have fairly strict grade requirements that applicants must meet. The minimum grade requirements will vary from state to state. Some states have fairly loose grade requirements compared to others, meaning it is relatively easy to get accepted into a dual enrollment program. For example, Alabama, Florida, and Louisiana only require applicants to have a GPA of about 2.0. However, it is worth noting that programs in most states will expect students to maintain between a 2.5 and a 3.0 GPA before they will be considered. 

    The best way to know if a student’s grades are competitive enough to get accepted into a dual enrollment program is to check their particular state’s admission requirements. Grade requirements vary significantly and are updated each year, so it is well worth taking the effort to make sure you have the most current information.

    In the meantime, any student that is interested in dual enrollment courses should do everything they can to get their average up. Think of applying to a dual enrollment as practice for applying to college or university. 

    According to the Education Commission of the States, dual enrollment programs in most states will only accept students who are in the 10th or 11th grades, which means most states require dual enrollment candidates to be at least 16 years old.

    However, it is worth noting that some programs will waive the minimum age requirement if the applicant has particularly high grades.

    Other Eligibility Requirements: 

    Of course, a student must be a high school student simultaneously when applying to a dual enrollment program. The programs are not accessible to those completing a high school diploma equivalency program, such as a General Education Development program or GED.

    Since almost every student who applies for a dual enrollment program is under age 18, they must also have written permission from a parent or legal guardian. Unless the student is homeschooled, they will also have to provide written permission from their high school principal or an approved guidance counselor. Written approval and recommendations from high school teachers are required in some states, like Hawaii, California, and New Mexico.

    In most cases, approval from school officials proves that the student has a reasonable attendance record and confirms that a dual enrollment course would not interfere with their regular studies.

    Most states also require dual enrollment applicants to write one or more admissions exams. The student’s scores on these exams determine whether they will be accepted into the program, how many dual enrollment courses they can take, and which school they will take them through. The exams test the student’s ability to succeed in college-level classes.

    Again, the best way to know if a student has a reasonable chance of getting accepted into a dual enrollment program is to consult their particular state’s exact admissions policy. Since policies also vary from college to college, it is also worth contacting the relevant admissions office to figure out that particular school’s requirements.

    How are Dual Enrollment Programs Financed?

    Given that college tuition is notoriously expensive, you are probably wondering how the programs are paid for.

    The reality is dual enrollment programs are financed in a variety of ways. How the program and courses are paid will depend on where the student lives. In some states, the state’s public education system will cover all of the costs associated with dual enrollment programs.

    Other states require students to pay the entire cost out of their pocket. Other school districts will expect the student to pay all of the relevant fees upfront, but if the student completes all of their dual enrollment classes, the state, high school, and even the college itself will reimburse the student.

    Are the Costs Worth It?

    If you are not lucky enough to live in a state that covers the costs associated with a dual enrollment program, you might be wondering if it is worth the extra money. While it is tempting to save the money and put it towards a college fund, dual enrollment programs are useful options for motivated students that are fairly certain they will end up going to college after they complete high school.

    For starters, the credits earned throughout a dual enrollment program can often be applied towards college degree requirements. This means the student will have to take fewer classes at college, which will reduce the amount of tuition they will have to pay. So, in a way, the money spent on dual enrollment courses can be seen as getting a head start on college fees.

    Successful completion of a dual enrollment program is also viewed very favorably by college admissions departments. When the student goes to apply for college after they graduate from high school, there is a much better chance they will get accepted by their desired school if they can prove they have completed a dual enrollment program. For many, getting into a first-choice college or university is definitely worth paying the costs that go with a dual enrollment program.

    Having students participating in dual enrollment programs reduces the staff requirements for high schools, there is a good chance that more state school systems will begin compensating students that participate in the program in the future. 

    Anyone interested in a dual enrollment program should take the time to discover how they are funded in their particular state and school district. If a student is lucky enough to live in an area where a dual enrollment program is paid for, it should be seen as even more incentive to consider applying.

    What are the Pros and Cons of Participation in a Dual Enrollment Program?

    There are many benefits to participating in a dual enrollment program; however, they are not necessarily the best choice for every student. To help you decide if dual enrollment is right for you, or your child, we will go over some of their potential benefits and drawbacks below:

    Benefits of Dual Enrollment:

    • Participation in a dual enrollment program will give a student an idea about what to expect from full-time enrollment at a college or university. Trying out a few college-level classes while the student is still in high school will help them decide if they want to earn a college degree after they complete high school.
    • If the dual enrollment program is hosted at a nearby college or university, the student will get the opportunity to have early exposure to a college atmosphere. For many students, leaving the comforts of home to study at a college or university outside of commuting distance is a big decision. Experiencing life on a college campus will help them decide if they enjoy that type of environment, which will help them decide if they are ready to move away from college after they finish high school.
    • The college-level classes the student would take through a dual enrollment program would be significantly more challenging than those offered through their high school. If the student is ambitious and would like a greater challenge than they can get through the high school curriculum, a dual enrollment program could be just what they are looking for.
    • College-level courses offer a more in-depth view of a subject than you can get through a comparable high school-level class. This allows students to expand their knowledge of areas that have a particular academic interest to them. For many students, this helps them decide what sort of college program they will apply for. Deciding on a major is difficult, so having an early sense of what you would like to study at college is very beneficial. 
    • Online dual enrollment courses allow students to study at their convenience. While students take many online courses directly at their high school, others can be completed from the comfort of home. This option is perfect for students who are looking for something to do after school.
    • Participation in a dual enrollment program reflects well on a student when applying to college. If a student wants to get accepted into a college program with competitive admissions requirements, completing a dual enrollment program could be just what they need to boost their application.
    • For almost every student, the number one benefit of a dual enrollment program is the opportunity to begin accumulating college credits while they are still in high school. For those that already know that they want to earn a college degree, what could be better than getting a head start before they even graduate from high school?
    • For students that are fortunate enough to live in a state or school district where dual enrollment fees are covered, participation in the program could save them money when it comes time to pay for their college education. Since most schools will count dual enrollment courses as college credits, the student would have to take fewer classes at college, which would reduce the total cost of their tuition.

    Potential Drawbacks of Participation in a Dual Enrollment Program:

    • Dual enrollment courses often require students to spend a significant amount of time studying and completing coursework. This can be an issue for students who are heavily involved in athletics or other extracurricular activities. It can also be a little bit difficult to balance school and a part-time job if you are trying to do well in your college-level dual enrollment classes.
    • Dual enrollment courses appear on a student’s high school transcript, which might be an issue if the student does not complete a course or receives poor grades. The last thing a student would want is for their participation in a dual enrollment program to hurt their chances of getting accepted to their desired college program.
    • If the dual enrollment program is not covered by the state or school district, the fees can be fairly expensive, which is especially troublesome if the student is trying to save money for college.
    • Dual enrollment courses are not universally recognized by all colleges, which means some colleges and universities will not recognize courses completed as part of a dual enrollment program as legitimate college credits. While most schools will recognize the courses and count them as credits, students should still check ahead of time by researching the credit policy at any colleges and universities they plan on applying to. 

    The Best Online Dual Enrollment Programs

    If a student does not live within commuting distance of a participating college or university, they could consider applying for an online dual enrollment program. While each student should always explore the options in their area by doing their research and speaking with school officials, the following online options are some of the best in the country and could worth taking a look at:

    Choosing a Dual Enrollment Program

    If you are still unsure if applying for a spot in a dual enrollment program would be the right decision, there are a few steps you should take:

    • Speak with guidance counselors at your high school and discover everything you can about programs your school is affiliated with
    • Take a serious look at your current schedule and decide if it could accommodate one or more college-level classes
    • Research the state requirements for dual enrollment admissions where you live
    • Contact your closest college or university and see if they offer a dual enrollment program
    • Research online programs and see if you can find one that meets your needs and preferences

    Additional Resources

    If you have any remaining questions about dual enrollment programs, the following resources could be helpful:

    Education Next – The Rise of Dual Credits 

    Education Next is a valuable digital resource for students, parents, and teachers. It is an online journal that covers just about every topic related to education. The article above explains some of the reasons why dual enrollment programs are becoming so popular with high school students all across the country. They also explain how the programs can be beneficial and offer valuable insights from students that have already completed a dual enrollment program.

    Dual Enrollment Requires Sustainable Funding 

    If you have any questions about how dual enrollment programs are paid for, this useful article about sustainable funding from the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute is a good read. It helps explain how they are funded and why funding them should be a top priority for every state.

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