What happens to a college or University when almost all the top applicants come to college with 30-60 college credits? Based upon the expansion of dual credit programs in the United States, that day seems to be coming sooner than some might expect. While general education faculty may have mixed opinions, they have limited influence on this broader change. Elite and exclusive colleges can simply refuse to accept such credits, but a very small minority of schools are in that position. For most, refusing dual credits means not welcoming some of the most academically prepared students. Others accept the credits but don’t offer dual credit themselves. That works well for some, but others want students to take those credits from their own school. If that is the case, it seems like the only option is to join the dual credit revolution and start offering quality dual credit courses. In other words, they need to expand their college offerings to high school students. Of course, there is a fourth option of ignoring the movement and/or shouting critiques from the sidelines without taking the time to carefully research the issue. We can be rather confident that this fourth option doesn’t end well.
The fact that college begins in high school has been true for over a decade, but more schools are offering dual credit and more students are taking these courses. A 2013 report from the National Center for Education Statistics revealed that 82% of public high schools had students enrolled in dual credit classes. We are in a context where many of the states in the US have programs to fund college courses for high school students, allowing students to meet the requirements for high school graduation while getting a head start on their college education. I expect to see this expand significantly, with many advanced high school students entering college as a sophomore or even a junior. Consider just a few of the many initiatives related to dual credit over the last fifteen years.
- The State of Michigan has a 15-year old dual enrollment program that allows high school students to take college courses, and the state pays for it. That is free college credit for high school students.
- The State of Wisconsin has the course options program, which allows students in Wisconsin public schools to take courses from other school districts as well as college courses from approved higher education institutions, and the state requires that the district pay for it.
- Many states have free or very inexpensive college credits available to high school students, often trough their community or technical college system.
- Early College Designs works with high schools across the country to design combined college / high school experiences, and they have a growing body of research to support their work.
- Since 1990, Washington State has been active with the Running Start program, which allows high school students to take college courses tuition free while in high school, even to the point of earning an associate’s degree upon graduation of high school.
While some high schools are struggling to make it to school each day, others are graduating with associate’s degrees. We can look at this a greater division among students, but others choose to look at it as the expansion of individualized education, allowing students to progress at a pace that fits their distinct profile as a learner, namely starting their college career early. This allows even the smallest rural high school to expand course offerings, meeting the more diverse needs of the student population.
Of course, cost is a factor as well. In a time when more people are critiquing the cost and value of higher education, dual credit offers a partial solution. Come to college needing fewer credits and that means you pay less for the degree. Some can graduate early and start a career, while others may opt to continue with a graduate degree right away, as evidenced by programs like Concorida University Wisconsin’s business scholar’s program, an initiative that helps students graduate with a bachelor’s and MBA in four years.
What does this mean for you? If you are a high school student or parent, this is an invitation to look into your dual credit options. Whether you are homeschooling, in public school, or at a private school, you have choices. In fact, the place where I work, Concordia University Wisconsin / Ann Arbor, just launched what is being called the Concordia Promise. Homeschoolers and students in Christian schools can now take dual credit classes for $50 / credit, and they get that money back if they matriculate to Concordia for their undergraduate degree. If you are a high school administrator or teacher, check your own offerings. Are you taking advantage of the dual credit possibilities for your students? If you work at a University, this is an encouragement or wake-up call.
Yet, this growth also calls for other actions. While there is a growing body of research about the impact of dual credit on student learning, dual credit is an area that could still use greater attention. College does indeed start in high school for a growing number of students. There are concerns about academic rigor and the developmental readiness of high school students. These invite our careful attention and consideration. Yet, the answer is likely not a yes or no to dual credit, but instead an opportunity to find a better how.