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High school-college dual enrollment: Minnesota can do better

St. Paul Pioneer Press (MN) – August 21, 2016

Minnesota was the first state to create dual enrollment policies that let high school students take college courses for both high school and college credit. But we don’t lead the nation in providing the best dual-enrollment options to students anymore.

Post-Secondary Educational Options (PSEO) let students earn high school and college credit simultaneously for courses they take at two-year or four-year colleges. Concurrent enrollment programs, like College in the Schools, let students take college courses at their high school from instructors who meet college academic and experience standards.

Dual enrollment helps students several ways. Students participating in dual enrollment programs are more likely to graduate from high school and do better in college. Students also reduce college expenses by starting college with credits they earned in high school.

Today students in other states have dual enrollment opportunities that are not available to Minnesota students. Florida, New Mexico, Ohio and South Dakota allow their students to learn through dual enrollment during the summer.

Students in Ohio’s public schools can take classes at a college and receive dual high school credits during the summer with the minor restriction that each student can earn no more than 30 college credits during a school year. Ohio’s College Credit Plus program provides state funding for these courses regardless of the term when the course is taken until the student graduates from high school.

South Dakota has a more restrictive dual enrollment grant funded by the state. South Dakota’s grant program allows its high school students to take up to two summer courses at college if they have not already taken two college courses during the preceding spring term.

Currently, high school students in Minnesota can enroll in dual enrollment programs only during the school year. We can do better.

Minnesota should expand our dual enrollment programs to let students take dual enrollment courses during the summer that are funded the same way as courses taken during the school year.

College in the Schools courses at high schools are funded by a combination of state and local tax dollars just like other classes at a public high school. Minnesota funds PSEO classes by having a portion of basic state education funding follow the student for each college course he or she takes.

Creating more educational options by letting students take dual enrollment courses during the summer is a smart way to spend state funds to improve education.

Students who take dual enrollment courses have higher GPAs in the first year at college and are less likely to take remedial courses in college according to research by Brian An, a professor at the University of Iowa. Overall, about 25 percent of Minnesota public high school graduates require remedial courses when they reach college.

Some of the higher educational success of dual enrollment students may be because of a self-selection effect. Students who are more likely to be academically successful may also be more likely to take dual enrollment courses. An’s research finds that dual enrollment increases students’ first-year GPAs and reduces enrollment in remedial courses even when he uses statistical models to attempt to control for confounding effects and selection bias.

Summer dual enrollment classes will be a good option for some students for different reasons. Some students may choose to take the same number of dual enrollment classes, but will benefit from more flexibility in their schedule. Other students may be able to take more dual enrollment classes and save even more on the expense of college tuition. Some students may be able to explore taking their first dual-credit course at a community college or university in the summer.

Today only 33 percent of teenagers work at a summer job. That is down from 1989 when 60 percent of teenagers worked during the summer. Earning high school and college credits at the same time may be a great use of time during the summer for teens who don’t have a job.

Allowing students to take dual enrollment classes during the summer also will make better use of existing classrooms. Colleges have many underutilized classrooms during the summer.

Expanding educational options for our students by letting them take dual enrollment courses during the summer is a good step toward better educational outcomes.

John A. Spry is an associate professor in the Department of Finance at the University of St. Thomas.