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Dual Enrollment: The Good, the Bad, and the Potentially Ugly, Part II

This is the second part in a three-part series written by NCTE TYCA Chair, Eva Payne. See Part I. 

Eva_blue_coatEven with stable funding, the rapid expansion of dual enrollment creates problems of equivalency on several fronts. For example, while supporting the growth of dual enrollment, the ACT report (2015) acknowledges, “critical determinants of college and workplace success” include “critical thinking, collaborative problem solving, behavioral skills such as persistence and self-regulation, and education and career navigation skills.” The ACT report assumes that DE enhances these essential student attributes. However, one of the frequent criticisms of DE is student maturity and the unreasonable expectation that a sixteen- or seventeen-year-old have college-level ability for reasoning and critical thinking. The barrier of age is ignored by some states like Florida, Ohio, and California that are offering the option of DE to children as young as twelve.

Maturity is just one hurdle in maintaining equivalent experiences between DE and the college experience on a college campus. The lack of support services for DE students such as advising, writing centers, tutoring centers, college libraries, and instructor office hours makes success more difficult for all students. Support services are essential for underprepared students.

Without supports in place, student readiness becomes even more important. The ACT report (2015) addresses this: “Student eligibility requirements are based on demonstration of ability to access college content.” The statement stops short of the NACEP standards that require equivalent placement tests regardless of where the college course is taught. ACT’s “Condition of College and Career Readiness(2015) offers statistics for the most recent high school graduates taking the ACT test:

  • 42% were ready for college-level mathematics
  • 38% were ready for college-level science
  • 28% were college ready in four areas: English, reading, mathematics, and science.

The ACT percentages resemble statistics at my college for students placing into writing courses for the years between 2008 and 2013:

  • 46% tested into developmental writing
  • 19% tested into college-level, first-year composition

If dual-enrollment credits are truly equivalent, ACT specifies that DE has to have “Course Quality” and endorses NACEP standards:

  • Courses have the same content and rigor regardless of where they are taught.
  • Instructors meet the same expectations as instructors of similar traditional postsecondary courses, and receive appropriate support and evaluation (8).

Two of Oregon’s four-year universities thwart equivalency and NACEP standards by awarding college credit based on proficiency. The sponsoring college or university creates a professional learning community with college faculty and high school teachers who are not required to have the requisite graduate credit hours or degree to teach transfer-level courses. Because the grades are awarded on proficiency, the use of college curriculum and college textbooks is not required. High school students participating are not required to take a placement test, and their access to college-level science laboratories and college library materials is limited because they are not registered as college students until they receive a passing grade.

Such contrasting circumstances create stark differences in the grades awarded students in first-year composition classes taught at Chemeketa Community College by full-time faculty, Eastern Oregon Promise, and Western Oregon University, the replication grant partner with Willamette Promise. However, unless these students are tracked as they move forward, it is difficult to tell what these differences mean.

Eastern Promise (2013), during the first year of the portfolio evaluation, reported a 47% failure rate, and the report indicated that 25% of that failure was due to plagiarism. The Willamette Promise/Western Oregon University success or failure rate is harder to gauge because they register students only after their portfolios are judged to be something above a “C” grade, so none of their students failed. A system that forestalls the possibility of failure is not equivalent to the grading systems at these institutions for their college students.

Dual enrollment Chart

The Willamette Promise Annual Report (Ketcham, 2015) statistics bundle all 3,609 credits awarded for the year. Writing courses made up 1,036 of the credits, nearly one-third of the college credits conferred in 2014-15. The grades above for Willamette Promise are an estimate based on grades for all courses rather just the results of first-year writing courses. The details of the portfolio evaluation were not published when this paper was written.

A noteworthy difference between college perceptions of attendance and Willamette Promise perception of attendance for their DE students was highlighted as “certainly a hidden benefit” because they were able to confer college credit to 69 high school students with chronic absenteeism (Ketcham, 2015, pg. 37). Awarding credit to chronically absent students is not equivalent to the experience of college students taking courses on most college campuses.

Eva Payne, National TYCA chair, teaches at Chemeketa Community College in Salem, Oregon.