Recently, a bill has been introduced to increase concurrent enrollment options for high school students in Minnesota. The new bill will provide money to increase access to concurrent enrollment classes and expand the option to younger students who are in 9th and 10th grades.
I am a big support of concurrent enrollment programs. This semester the four post-secondary enrollment options (PSEO) students in my classes are among my best. I encourage a massive expansion of this excellent program. PSEO students are placed in a collegiate environment where they interact with both a college professor and college students. As long as the college is fairly compensated for the high school students who attend, there are only positive outcomes.
But not all students have access to PSEO because they may not be able to get to a nearby college campus, which brings me to “dual-credit” classes.
I am also a big supporter of dual-credit college classes that are taught on high school campuses by high school teachers who are mentored by college faculty. There are many things to praise about dual-credit classes. They put college and high school faculty in close contact where both benefit from regular conversations about curricular, scholarly and pedagogical issues. They expose students to college level material and help them get a head start on post-secondary education. The research shows that the challenging nature of the classes helps with graduation rates and in closing the achievement gap.
We need to think carefully about how to expand dual-credit classes. Before I share some concerns, let me state that I believe students should be able to take as many dual-credit classes as they can. At the same time, I do not believe that they should be able to count more than 15 credits of these classes toward a college degree (AA or BA/BS).
One of my concerns involves the expansion of dual credit classes to 9th and 10th graders. Do students that young have the maturity to take many college classes? How should teachers handle controversial and explicit subjects? Will we need to censure college level courses so that young students may take them? Is it fair to evaluate 9th and 10th graders according to stadards applied to 20-year-olds and 21-year-olds who complete three years of college, because that’s who you get in many lower-level college classes? If not, how can we give real college credits to very young students? If very young students in dual credit courses, could this become a disincentive to pursue higher education?
Each April, I advise many recent high school graduates who are enrolling in college. I often see students who enter with more than 15 credits of college, taken as dual-credit classes. Most of the students admit to me that they are not confident to move into more advanced courses in math, science, or English, even though they have passed introductory classes while in high school. Routinely, I hear from students that taking classes in college is different (harder) than taking college classes in high school. There are also issues of quality control as colleges and universities race to the bottom to partner with schools on dual-credit classes. (My college will offer the course to your high school for less money.) Any expansion should examine the current system for quality in order to ensure an expansion is warranted. No doubt some dual credit-classes are excellent — equal to or better than many found in colleges — but not all of them. And dual-credit should never be considered a substitute for college. A rush to expansion is part of a larger “education reform” effort to water down higher education options for working class and middle class students.
Jeff Kolnick is a professor of history at Southwest Minnesota State University and a former member of the Charting the Future Academic Planning and Collaboration.
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