Posted: Apr 14, 2014 9:00 AM
The Advanced Placement courses offered at many high schools have long been the way to earn college credits while still in high school. But many parents — and educators — are now thinking that dual enrollment is the smarter choice. Is taking college courses while still in high school right for your teen?
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Think your child has to wait to take college courses until after high school graduation? With a dual enrollment program, she won't have to wait — and can actually finish high school and college at a faster pace than by the traditional route. We spoke with instructors, parents and students to find out how dual enrollment really works.

What's the deal with dual enrollment?

Credit earned for an AP course relies solely on the student's score on the AP test, while dual enrollment credits are earned through the entire course, just like a regular class.

Simply stated, dual enrollment refers to a program in which currently enrolled high school students can simultaneously earn both high school and college credits. There are several different ways that a dual enrollment program might be structured, but the ultimate benefit to the student is a faster timeline for completing both high school and college. This is in contrast to the Advanced Placement (AP) courses that are offered by many high schools, which may — or may not — give high school students either credit for a college course or general units toward their lower-division work. Credit earned for an AP course relies solely on the student's score on the AP test, while dual enrollment credits are earned through the entire course, just like a regular class.

The student's perspective

Jeremy Jones was part of a dual enrollment program during his senior year of high school. When he moved on to a four-year university, all of the coursework he had completed at the community college transferred directly. "My one big recommendation for those looking to taking classes at a college during high school is to always complete the series of a course," he shares. "If you're taking general education classes like English, take the full year's worth to avoid having to repeat anything while in college — especially if the first school is on quarters and the one you end up going to is semesters. I did not do this with my English class, and had to repeat extra work as my credits did not fully transfer over," Jones adds.

Jon Moore is a Ph.D. candidate in history at Tulane University, who participated in a dual enrollment program when he was a junior in high school. He was able to complete his entire senior year with six courses total, and graduated early. "The courses are much easier to transfer (especially if you end up going to that same college, like I did) than AP courses, which sometimes do not have an equivalent at a college you want," Moore says. He feels that his transition to college was a breeze compared to students who did the traditional route. "I already knew how to register, what the classes looked like in terms of students, professors, workloads." The only downside Moore recalls is that students do have to devote a lot of free time, especially if summer courses are part of the program.

What do teachers think?

Katie Sluiter is an adjunct college English instructor, a high school English teacher, freelance writer and blogger at Sluiter Nation. "I think dual enrollment is an awesome idea," she shares. "Our school has something unique called Middle College that is sort of a combination. Sophomores can enroll in Middle College, which are classes that are through our local community college. They take these classes for four years along with their high school courses. They end up going to school an extra year, but they graduate with a high school diploma and a (free!) associates of arts degree through the community college," Sluiter says. While she also feels that the AP program is a good option, she really sees the benefit of the Middle College program. "It's an amazing program," she adds. "It does cut our numbers in our upper-level and AP classes, but it gives our students more opportunities and options, which I think is the first and foremost obligation of education."

While I feel it is an advantage curriculum-wise, I don't think students are truly emotionally prepared for college at 15 or 16.

Dr. Amy B. Hollingsworth is an instructor at The University of Akron, who works closely with dual enrollment students in her biology course. "One of the known issues with dual enrollment (DE) is that students don't feel like they belong in either high school or college," Dr. Hollingsworth says. "A student who is 16, and in a college course, may have trouble relating to the other students in the class, which can make them feel isolated. In my lab course, where my students work in groups, I have seen 16-year-olds feel very uncomfortable when the others are talking about drinking or going to fraternity parties," she adds. These students may not feel that they belong in high school, either. "While I feel it is an advantage curriculum-wise, I don't think students are truly emotionally prepared for college at 15 or 16. Unless they are in a distance-learning situation (where the college course is broadcast to their high school via the web or on a screen in a lecture hall) or have excellent counseling, first generation students may feel isolated," she shares. "The word we use for it is 'liminality.' This is where they are at a crossroads between being a teenager and being made to skip the crucial years of understanding oneself, and going straight into college without the emotional maturity," Dr. Hollingsworth adds.

From the parents' perspective

Poppy Marler, owner and writer of the healthy lifestyle site Facing 40, is thrilled that her daughter qualifies for the Running Start/dual enrollment program in her state. "With a plan of earning her AA at the same time as her high school diploma, our expenses for her first two years of school will be nominal," shares Marler. "Academically she is ready for college level courses and has an excellent track record as a mature and responsible student. With a state-funded AA and our modest savings, she should escape without student debt during her undergrad years. Upon graduation, she will easily be able to transfer to a state university as a junior to complete her undergrad studies," Marler adds.

Think your child might be a good candidate for a dual enrollment program? Check with the academic counseling department at the high school or contact your local community college to see what programs are available in your area.

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