Dual enrollment still not reaching hardest to serve kids

Dual enrollment still not reaching hardest to serve kids

(N.M.) While dual enrollment has nearly doubled in New Mexico since 2011, a new report suggests the state isn’t reaching the children who could benefit most from exposure to more rigorous coursework.

A legislative committee’s study also raised the question of whether or not current spending on dual credit courses for high school students--which increased 60 percent between 2012 and 2017--is actually engaging students most in need of exposure to higher education or vocational training.

Instead, those participating in dual enrollment were typically those students who would have attended and succeeded in college without any extra push.

“This finding suggests taking dual credit courses may have less impact on a student’s ability to obtain a college degree faster and with less remedial coursework than does that student’s general academic aptitude,” authors of the report wrote. “Further, it also means any savings the state might realize from having students graduate faster are not necessarily a direct function of the state’s $54.4 million annual dual credit investment.”

Promoting dual enrollment has become increasingly popular throughout the country as states search for ways to reduce remediation rates, streamline students’ paths toward earning college degrees, and strengthen vocational training partnerships between high schools and community colleges. Many states have increased education spending to cover college tuition for high school students who are dually enrolled, and just last year, the U.S. Department of Education announced $100 million in new grants aimed at expanding access to higher education and career training programs for low-income families.

Studies continue to show that participation in dual enrollment can lead to improved academic outcomes, including better grades in high school, increased college enrollment, and higher rates of college degree or credential attainment–especially for students from low-income households.

In examining the state’s own dual enrollment progress, New Mexico’s nonpartisan Legislative Finance Committee found that, indeed, student participation in dual-credit coursework has helped students earn their degrees or credentials in less time and without any need for remedial coursework. However, the committee also found that the students who enroll in the more rigorous courses are those who tend to have higher academic aptitudes, and who would have likely succeeded in their postsecondary studies regardless of their participation in dual enrollment classes.

Additionally, more than half of students who took dual credit courses in fiscal year 2016 took courses outside the core transfer curriculum approved by the Higher Education Department, meaning the college credits they earned are not guaranteed to transfer from 2- to 4-year colleges.

At the same time, only 42 percent of dual credit-earning students took courses in subjects such as welding, emergency medical technology, data entry or general agriculture–as well as other coursework that could lead to an industry certificate.

State spending on dual credit increased from about $34.4 million in fiscal year 2012 to approximately $54.4 million fiscal year 2016, the report showed, but funding for community college delivering dual enrollment has only increased 6 percent, despite student participation in dual enrollment nearly doubling.

Authors of the committee report suggest the New Mexico Public Education Department and the Higher Education Department assess the full costs and benefits of dual credit financial policies and recommend a more equitable and efficient use of public and higher education funding to the Legislature. Any recommendations should also examine how funding is distributed for students in dual credit courses based on course location, and the delivery method of instruction.

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