The House Education and Labor Committee on Wednesday heard from education advocates on how dual-enrollment programs and competency-based education (CBE) can reduce college costs for students, among other benefits. But to run effectively, such programs require improved student support services and strong community partnerships, they added.
During a discussion on high-quality pathways to a college degree that was part of a series of House hearings to help inform the committee as it prepares to rework the Higher Education Act, lawmakers heard about various efforts — many at community colleges — to improve student success, which require stakeholders to think innovatively about education. Judith Marwick, provost at Harper College in Illinois, outlined to the panel the college’s efforts to align its work with local K-12 districts as well as business and industry. Doing so has reduced the need for developmental education among incoming Harper students and helped develop career pathways that lead to available jobs — with employers often even paying students through programs such as apprenticeships, she said.
When asked how Harper has developed successful apprenticeships and other job training programs in sectors such as advanced manufacturing, insurance, fashion and fire sciences, Marwick said the college president regularly invites companies to the college and asks what they need of their employees.
“And we adopt,” she added.
Benefits, challenges of dual enrollment
Members of the committee were particularly interested in the benefits of dual-enrollment programs, which allow high school students to take college-credit courses. Several lawmakers even compared them to long-established Advanced Placement (AP) courses created by the College Board, for which students may receive college credit upon successful completion. Rep. Donna Shalala (D-Florida) noted that AP programs have received substantial investments, and it is possibly time to invest more in dual enrollment.
“They may have just as much promise if not more” than AP courses, Shalala said.
Many community colleges also are leaning on dual enrollment to maintain their enrollments as traditional-age and older college students opt instead to work in a strong economy. But despite their appeal, there are challenges with running such programs, such as costs (who pays for them), credentialing of teachers to teach such programs, and transfer of credits to four-year institutions.
Harper’s Marwick suggested that high school students should be allowed to tap Pell grants to help pay for dual enrollment. But many community college advocates warn that students who do risk using up their Pell eligibility before even enrolling in college. Sameer Gadkaree, a senior program officer at the Joyce Foundation, noted at the hearing that there is also the issue of whether dual-enrollment students are truly ready for college-level work and, even though they might have a career in mind, that could change.
Gadkaree and others said that better student supports and more intensive advising in high school and college would help students make better choices and keep them on the course toward completion.
Pitching for a CBE pilot program
The committee also heard from Charla Long, executive director of the Competency-Based Education Network, who highlighted the benefits of using competency instead of credit hours in advancing toward a credential. She started with an example of a community college student who could, based on knowledge attained through her work experience, earn a credential in a quarter of the time if based on competencies instead of seat time. Her written testimony included efforts at Sinclair College (Ohio) and Salt Lake Community College (Utah) in using CBE.
Long said she would like Congress to authorize a pilot program for CBE that would, in part, give colleges flexibility with federal student aid rules. Such an experiment would allow stakeholders to better gauge the possibilities and potential pitfalls of expanding CBE programs, she said.