In general, community colleges seem to be working well with their high school partners to adapt their courses to a distance learning environment for dual-enrollment students.
Dual-enrollment programs are based on strong partnerships, and that has made it easier to make the transition, said Amy Wells, executive director of the National Alliance of Concurrent Enrollment Partnerships.
“Hands-on courses and clinics are the biggest pain points,” Williams said.
Other challenges include making sure high school students and teachers have access to computers and the internet, and that teachers are well-trained to use distance learning technology.
Ensuring the programs can continue virtually is crucial, as high school students comprise a big part of some colleges’ total enrollment. About one-third (34 percent) of all high school students take at least one college course for credit, according to a report by the National Center for Education Statistics.
‘Communication is key’
Transferring all dual-enrollment courses for high school students to an online format was a bit worrisome at first but now is going well, said Carrie Rock, coordinator of secondary education partnerships at Iowa Central Community College (ICCC) in Fort Dodge.
“Communication is key,” Rock said. “It’s been a learning curve for all of us. “We’re all working from home. We’re all trying to make do and put the student first.”
ICCC has more than 2,000 students taking community college courses at about 19 high schools. The courses are taught by high school teachers credentialed to teach at the college level. Faculty liaisons at the high schools employed by ICCC coordinate the dual-enrollment program and provide guidance to teachers.
Less than a handful of dual-enrolled high school students earn an associate degree when they graduate; the others get college credits in general education subjects that can be transferred to ICCC or another institution. Dual-enrolled students also can take ICCC courses in career and technical subjects, such as welding, auto technology, criminal justice and health science.
Some dual-enrollment courses had already been offered online. That is especially helpful to students at far-flung high schools who wanted to take an ICCC course not offered at their own school, Rock noted.
Internet access remains a challenge
The biggest challenge to moving all dual-enrollment courses online was the lack of internet access among some students. In the past, if students didn’t have the internet at home, they could log in from a public library or local business, but those places are now closed.
“These students signed up for a face-to-face course at a high school. We knew we would have students who couldn’t do this,” Rock said.
For students unable to participate in distance learning – only about 10 per school – “we made sure we didn’t penalize them,” Rock said, adding that they are considered withdrawn from the class and won’t get a grade.
“We get that this doesn’t work for everybody, but if you want college credit, you have to complete the course,” she said.
High schools are using their own platform for distance learning, such as Canvas or Google Classroom. Teachers were told to “do what you’re comfortable with,” as long as they maintain contact with students throughout the week, Rock said.
Placement tests dropped
At Edison State Community College (ESCC) in Piqua, Ohio, where high school students make up about half the total enrollment, the biggest challenge was admissions testing this spring for high school students applying for dual enrollment in the fall 2020 semester, according to Provost Chris Spradlin.
In the past, testing was done in person in March for the following year. This spring, ESCC worked with the state to allow the use of grade point average instead. Anyone with a 3.0 GPA is eligible to take a college course in fall 2020.
“That threshold is probably a little higher, but it’s not a huge difference,” Spradlin said.
About 60 percent of dual-enrolled students take classes at a high school with teachers certified by the college, Spradlin said. In a few cases, ESCC sends adjuncts to teach at a high school. The rest of the dual-enrolled students come to the college or take a college course online.
Ohio has a well-developed dual-enrollment program, called College Credit Plus, that allows high school students to earn up to 30 college credits a year free of charge. Funding comes from the state’s allocation to public schools. Depending where the course is offered, the college gets about $41 per credit hour, which is far less than its regular tuition of $160 per credit.
Better than expected
The switch to distance learning for dual-enrollment students “is going much better than we ever expected,” Spradlin said. “Students and faculty really stepped up.”
Fewer than 50 dual-enrolled students withdrew from a college course, which was “much, much fewer than what we expected,” he says.
All Edison courses already have a Blackboard site, even if they are face-to-face classes. The high schools can use Blackboard or their own system to access the courses.
About 90 percent of Edison’s dual-enrollment courses are general education courses for transfer, although there also are few technical courses. Out of a total of about 1,500 dual-enrollment students at Edison, about 60 a year earn an associate degree while still in high school.
After high school graduation, most dually enrolled students in the program transfer to a four-year college. As an incentive to choose Edison, the college offers scholarships to all dual-enrolled students. The scholarships cover 50 percent or 100 percent of their tuition, depending on how many credits they already earned.
Because of the coronavirus situation, ESCC rolled out a new program in mid-April: Any high school senior in the Class of 2020 can now get a full scholarship to Edison.
A smooth transition
Salt Lake Community College’s dual-enrollment program made the transition to online learning fairly easily, as every class section at both the college and high schools is automatically set up on Canvas, said Brandon Kowallis, director of concurrent enrollment.
So when the college and high schools moved fully online during the pandemic, the content was already there.
“Most high school students are adapting pretty quickly to online environments,” Kowallis said.
Dual-enrolled students comprise more than 9,000 of SLCC’s total enrollment of 60,000. Most of them take college classes at a high school, but some come to the college for classes where they mix in with the SLCC population.
The college is still trying to determine how to serve high school students who are taking hands-on courses, such as automotive technology or welding. Many CTE instructors have found workarounds, such as showing a demonstration or video, Kowallis said.
“It’s not ideal but we are making do with what we have,” he said.
The high schools are working to equip students with computers and ensure that they can get online if they don’t have internet access at home. The Granite School District, for example, has sent out school buses to serve as internet access points, so students can drive up and park next to them.
At Minnesota West Community and Technical College (MWCTC), 53 percent of all course offerings are completely or mostly online, said Kayla Westra, dean of institutional effectiveness and liberal arts.
She was initially concerned about switching dual-enrollment students to distance learning, but “high school instructors came back with phenomenal plans for finishing the semester,” she said.
While broadband access is readily available in MWCTC’s service area, the college had another challenge with online dual enrollment: what to do about education courses when students are required to participate in classroom observations.
Some teachers solved that by having students observe Zoom classroom sessions or having students watch videos from the University of Michigan’s archives that were recorded before the pandemic.
To be eligible for dual enrollment, high school students must pass the same placement requirements as students enrolling in MWCTC. The college recently dropped placement testing, and now uses multiple measures, including GPA and high school recommendations.
Accreditation requires site visits by college faculty to ensure high school dual-enrollment classes are rigorous enough. Since site visits can’t be done in person, they’re being done on Google or Schoology.
About half of the dual-enrolled students take college courses at their high school, which are taught by high school teachers credentialed to teach at the college level. The rest take MWCTC courses online.
About 20 to 25 high schools participate, and with roughly 1,600 high school students taking at least one college course. Most of the students in the college’s certified nursing assistant program are high school students.
Most dual-enrolled students earn about 20 college credits by the time they graduate from high school, Westra said. Every year a couple of high school students complete an associate degree. Last year, a student earned a registered nursing degree while still in high school.
Partnerships are critical
Dual-enrollment programs are well-positioned to respond to emergencies like the pandemic because “they rely fundamentally on partnerships,” said Williams of the National Alliance. “They’re built on collaboration and resource sharing.”
And because the partnerships are already in place, the college and school district can focus on “how can we get this done, what are the issues, and what can we both contribute to building a solution,” she said.
Williams added that with higher education and K-12 budget cuts looming in the future, dual-enrollment programs are an efficient way to help students accelerate their education. They also offer a way to boost community college enrollment, she said.