Dual Enrollment: Offering High School Students the Advantage of College-level Rigor and Early College Credits
Bow High School / Southern New Hampshire University - Bow/Manchester, NH
“Dual enrollment allows high school students to earn early college credit through approved courses at their own high school,” says Polly St. Hilaire, Director for Dual Enrollment at Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU), a private university in Manchester, NH. SNHU piloted its dual enrollment program in 2007 with just 101 students in three New Hampshire high schools. The program has grown dramatically in just a few years, reflecting demand for this opportunity: in the 2014-15 school year, SNHU in the High School served 1700 students in 35 high schools in three New England states.
Bow High School in Bow, NH, is one high school that has partnered with SNHU in the High School to offer students rigorous coursework and early credits. “Taking college-level courses gives students the confidence and sense that they can handle it,” says Colleen DesRuisseaux, Director of School Counseling at Bow High School. Beyond confidence, earning college credit at a nominal price can help students and parents who are looking to reduce college expenses. “Dual enrollment students pay a processing fee of just $100 to $125 per course compared to the $1700 to $2000 per course cost for part-time day students,” says St. Hilaire.
With SNHU in the High School, high school teachers can apply to have their courses considered for dual enrollment. To be approved, “teachers have to meet the same adjunct faculty criteria as they would at SNHU,” says St. Hilaire, who describes this requirement as a minimum of a master’s degree, usually in the content area of the course. High school course syllabi must also be aligned with SNHU course requirements for content objectives and outcomes. SNHU department chairs review applications, and if they are approved, teachers can offer approved dual enrollment courses for tenth, eleventh and twelfth grade students. To ensure quality, SNHU faculty also make visits to high school classrooms to “ensure that depth and breadth of the course is being taught and that the course meets objectives, outcomes or critical tasks, where required,” explains St. Hilaire.
Bow High School teachers and students have embraced dual enrollment as a way to earn college credits while fulfilling high school graduation requirements. Bow High School’s dean of Math, Science and Technology formally initiated the program in the 2010-11 school year with four courses: AP Macro, Business, Finance, and Accounting. Thirty-eight students participated, representing about 60 percent of eligible students. In the second year, Bow High School added humanities and math courses for a total of 7 dual enrollment courses. The following year, Bow High School added more dual enrollment courses through NHTI, a Concord-based community college. Over the last four years, the program has offered around 15 dual enrollment courses to an average of 131 Bow High School students each year. DesRuisseaux says that many students now graduate with 12 to 18 dual enrollment credits, but they have had students graduate with as many as 27 college credits, the equivalent of nearly one year of college coursework.
Bow High School is now planning to add more General Education dual enrollment courses, specifically in Anatomy, French, Spanish, Biology, Psychology, Statistics, Chemistry and Drawing. “The goal is to create a program with SNHU where Bow High School students can earn their two-year Associate of Arts degree by the time they graduate,” says DesRuisseaux. SNHU’s St. Hilaire adds that helping students fulfill their General Education requirements before college has advantages beyond cost savings. “Required freshman courses can be a source of frustration for a lot of students because it is often a repeat of content for them,” St. Hilaire says, “so moving students more quickly into their major coursework helps retain them as freshmen.”
Both St. Hilaire and DesRuisseaux acknowledge that there are some obstacles to dual enrollment programs. They mention challenges related to teacher availability, either that teachers may not meet qualifications or may not be able to add additional preparation to their course load. St. Hilaire mentions that many parents are not aware of the dual enrollment option when it is offered at their children’s schools, despite parent information nights and other awareness-building efforts. At the program administration level, it can be challenging to deliver services in multiple states – and handle the volume of participants in a largely manual process. Further, there can be some issues of portability of these earned credits, as colleges are not guaranteed to always accept them.
However, both DesRuisseaux and St. Hilaire remark on the benefits of dual enrollment for students, teachers and schools. Beyond the money saving aspect of earned credits, DesRuisseaux says that taking college-level courses can help students determine their post-secondary course of study. “Dual enrollment gives kids a stepping stone to figuring out a career without making such a huge leap,” she explains. Both say that dual enrollment “raises the bar” for classes and expectations for students. DesRuisseaux adds that teachers do not find the work burdensome and that it can encourage them to pursue master’s degrees in content areas. St. Hilaire mentions that it’s also an opportunity for SNHU faculty to be exposed to great classroom teaching through their class visits. It’s also clear that students view their dual enrollment experience positively: St. Hilaire surveyed SNHU students who have dual enrollment credit from high school and reports that 95% of respondents said that dual enrollment courses prepared them to take on college-level work.
St. Hilaire adds one piece of advice for schools thinking of implementing a dual enrollment program: “You don’t have to start with a big program,” says St. Hilaire. “Just start with one class, find one or two teachers you can trust to do this well, and build from there.”