The rise of dual-enrollment programs for high school students provides a creative opportunity for recruitment and retention at many community colleges.
While many students may see these programs as a quick way to get ahead or gain some college experience, institutions can use their resources to broaden the scope of a college student-centered environment to help high school students thrive and commit to a community college academic path.
Reinforce college readiness
Ambitious is definitely a word that can describe many of our dual-enrollment students. High school can be rough, and college is rigorous. Combining these two challenging stages of academic life can be overwhelming, so it is vital to create online courses that seamlessly fill the gap between high school and college. Online course design commonly includes campus resources for easy access, but reconsider how these resources are presented or even used remotely.
Colleges can take advantage of the online learning experience of this demographic, but also keep in mind they were thrown into online academic chaos. The misconception that younger students are experienced in technology creates the assumption they know exactly what to do once they log on. This is rarely true for first-year college students, but even more true for high school students. Most secondary schools use different tools and learning management systems, so these students are learning and navigating two systems. It can get complicated, and they haven’t even started a lesson.
In terms of course design, the solution could be as simple as revising or repackaging additional academic resources like tutoring, library or advising. Consider using videos or graphics instead of just links to different campus resources. Instructors do not need to worry about more video production; most departments and programs already have videos or resources. They are also eager to share and promote their specialties. This approach will not only show the students resources that exist and how to contact the department but also give the students a better description of the services and give the department some personality.
When building your course content, think about what your students may need to know to succeed — and think beyond lesson material. Is there some background information on the topic that would provide students with a richer understanding? OER (open educational resources) could provide free supplemental content. Are there formatting or stylistic requirements that some dual-enrollment students may not have been exposed to yet? Your campus library or the Excelsior OWL could be great resources. Most of these suggestions target the experience and skills level of high school students but would also benefit a variety of college students.
Online is not isolation
One of the many goals of a student-centered learning community is to understand the students’ experiences to create an engaging and supportive environment. Our dual-enrollment high school students were pushed into online learning during quarantine and online learning already has a stigma of isolation. Instructors and instructional designers commonly build courses that provide resources to academically support students, but how can we improve social experience in the class and encourage a social connection to campus culture?
Some traditional college courses rely on critical-thinking skills to pull together a variety of objectives and skills to produce one large project or complete an exam to show understanding. This practice provides minimal opportunity for assessment and feedback. By creating “stepping stones” of activities that follow individual stages of Bloom’s Taxonomy or a formative/summative activity path, instructors can give students bite-sized experiences that increase chances for social learning and feedback. This method of instruction reinforces higher-order thinking and breaks the pattern of “plug and chug” assessments.
College culture is starting to be in full bloom again, so make sure your online students know about it. Do not assume dual-enrollment students are too involved with their high school culture. Including campus or remote events in your course or even just your announcements can highlight what the college can offer students. It minimizes isolation and builds a connection to the actual campus, not just the classes.
Your class is not a pit stop
Dual-enrollment programs can jump-start a high school student’s college journey, but institutions can seize this retention opportunity. While these types of programs are great for general education requirements, building a community of learners inside and outside of the online learning environment makes a stronger connection to the institution. This level of academic support paired with an exceptional student experience will encourage students to complete their associate degree and then take advantage of the transfer options and partnerships your institution has to offer.