Dual-Enrollment as a Solution to Student Success in College

In a recent survey, researchers at North Carolina State University asked community college students about the barriers to being successful in their coursework. At the top of the list? Working and paying for expenses.

About 2,100 students said work was the largest challenge they faced, with 61 percent saying the number of hours they worked didn’t leave them enough time to study. About 50 percent of students reported their wages didn’t cover their expenses.

What we see here if the collision that occurs all too often at the intersection of real life and postsecondary education.

While many continue thinking of college education in terms of traditional students from middle-income families, unencumbered from the full responsibilities of making their way in the world, the reality is that many community college students don’t fit this model. They are young people working full-time. They are single parents. They are people working multiple jobs while trying to support aging parents. They are unemployed and looking for a way to restart their lives.

And, to be clear, the survey I mentioned only deals with those young adults and non-traditional students who have managed to navigate the often circuitous and confusing path into higher education. The same barriers that are preventing these intrepid souls from being successful are actually preventing millions more from ever getting started.

The good news is that, by identifying the barriers to advancement, we can begin focusing on new solutions that are more inclusive and more likely to promote long-term learning success for students.

Here are three components I think such solutions should incorporate to achieve optimal impact.

1. Introduce as many students as possible to college studies while they are still in high school — The core general education requirements most college students take in their first year of college study are, with regards to the information covered, largely a repeat of material taught to 11th and 12th graders in high school. By replacing much of the traditional high school curriculum with college-level courses, students can begin their postsecondary studies in a more stable and more familiar environment. This translates to lower living costs and, to a large degree, less pressure with regards to the complications of life.

2. Make the first year of college education truly affordable for students — This means that courses should be available at low or no tuition. For courses that are offered for dual-enrollment credit, many school districts should be able to cover the expense of the courses with existing funding. “Truly affordable” also assumes that such programs will bear no additional fees or textbooks costs.

3. Have built-in college-readiness scaffolding that prepares students for success in their course work — There is no doubt that many of today’s students lack the fundamental preparation for college coursework. They are not prepared to take “ownership” of their learning and often lack the critical thinking and essential skills they need to be successful. We will see much greater long-term success for students by integrating such competencies and skills as part of a carefully designed curriculum that they can begin earlier in their academic careers.

4. Make it incredibly easy to get started — To help more students find success and flourish both personally and professionally, we need to make the process of enrolling and taking the first slate of courses as simple as possible. People assume that college is going to be “hard” in terms of the required coursework. We should work to make the reat of the process as invisible and non-threatening s possible.

I believe there are many benefits to shifting the first year of college study into high schools, primarily through well-designed dual-enrollment options. Here are just a few.

  • We will be able to enroll more students in postsecondary education.
  • More students will gain a sense of academic accomplishment and career opportunity earlier in life.
  • We will see more students complete college and other postsecondary courses and degrees.
  • Our businesses — local, regional, and national — will have a broader pool of qualified workers for career employment.
Rob Reynolds, Ph.D.
Executive Director, TEL Library

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