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POSITIVE DOUBLE DIPPING: More Low-Income Students Take College Classes in High School When States, Districts Pay the Costs

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“Students in some districts pay little to no tuition … while students in the next district over must cover all tuition costs to access similar coursework.”

Increasingly, states are expanding the availability of dual enrollment options, programs in which students earn high school and college credits simultaneously for a course or series of courses. Yet while states have committed to expanding these programs, many have not eliminated financial barriers that prevent low-income and students of color from participating, according to a recent analysis by the Education Commission of the States (ECS).

In nine states, students and/or their parents pay all tuition costs for dual enrollment classes, according to State Approaches to Funding Dual Enrollment. In eleven other states, the person or group responsible for tuition costs depends on the specific dual enrollment program a student chooses. But in nine of those states, students and/or their parents still pay some or all of the costs under at least one dual enrollment program. Meanwhile, in fourteen states and the District of Columbia, a student’s high school and/or school district and the participating postsecondary institution assign responsibility for tuition payments locally. These local payment decisions create the greatest inequities in access to dual enrollment programs, according to the report.

“In practice, when dual enrollment tuition decisions are determined locally, access to dual enrollment courses can vary considerably district by district,” the report states. “Students in some districts pay little to no tuition … while students in the next district over must cover all tuition costs to access similar coursework.”

Students who participate in dual enrollment course work are more likely to graduate from high school, enter college, and complete college in less time than peers with similar high school academic performance and demographics, according to the report. Consequently, “[t]o ensure that all eligible students—regardless of family income or geography—have equal access to dual enrollment courses, states may consider funding models that place dual enrollment tuition costs with the state or district,” the report notes.

The report highlights several states that require local school districts or the state to pay all costs related to dual enrollment courses. Furthermore, the analysis finds that “states removing the tuition burden from dually enrolled students see larger proportions of minority and low-income students participating in dual enrollment programs.”

In Colorado, Florida, Iowa, and Wyoming, local school districts pay all tuition costs for dually enrolled students. Florida school districts use general operating funds to reimburse higher education institutions for the full tuition costs of dually enrolled high school students. Iowa provides districts with extra funding to support dually enrolled students by giving dually enrolled students additional weight in the state’s per-student funding formula. In School Year (SY) 2013–14, for instance, districts received an additional $18–20 million in state funds from these extra weights to cover tuition costs for dually enrolled students. This extra funding boosts participation. According to the report, Iowa led the nation in the number of students younger than eighteen years old who were enrolled in community college in SY 2013–14, when approximately 30 percent of all community college students in Iowa were high school students.

In North Carolina and Minnesota, the state pays at least part of the tuition costs for dually enrolled students. Through North Carolina’s Career & College Promise Program, the state legislature allocates funds for dually enrolled students to the state’s community colleges based on participation numbers from the previous academic year, which is the same method used for allocating state funds for traditional community college students.

Meanwhile, the Minnesota Department of Education reimburses colleges directly for high school students who pursue course work on college campuses through the state’s Postsecondary Enrollment Options (PSEO) program. Similarly, through a newer concurrent enrollment program, high school students also can take college-level courses at their own high schools. This concurrent enrollment program makes dual enrollment course work accessible to students who cannot travel to a college campus as required by the PSEO program, the report notes.

Participation in Minnesota’s new concurrent enrollment program continues to rise, particularly among students of color and low-income students. Between SY 2008–09 and SY 2013–14, the number of students in the concurrent enrollment program increased 23 percent. The participation of students of color, meanwhile, increased 43 percent—twice the growth of white students, according to the ECS report. During that same time period, the number of students qualifying for free or reduced-price lunch who participated in concurrent enrollment and PSEO increased 36 percent and 40 percent respectively. As a result, low-income students now represent 17 percent of students in the concurrent enrollment program and 19.5 percent of students in PSEO.

State Approaches to Funding Dual Enrollment is available at http://www.ecs.org/clearinghouse/01/18/92/11892.pdf.

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