ED all in on dual enrollment

U.S. Education Assistant Secretary Amy Loyd talks with Richard Rhodes, president of Austin Community College, at the AACC board of directors' summer retreat. (Photos: Matthew Dembicki/AACC)

The U.S. Education Department (ED) wants to see more high school students participate in dual enrollment as part of a strategy to more seamlessly link high schools, colleges and career paths in order to better serve all students, according to an ED official.

Amy Loyd, ED’s assistant secretary for career, technical and adult education, said dual enrollment works in getting students who might not otherwise consider college on a pathway to college and careers, calling it “one of the most powerful” interventions to help students. Loyd, who spoke Thursday during the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) board of directors’ summer retreat in Washington, D.C. noted dual enrollment’s role as part of a effort to encourage and prepare students for not only four-year colleges but also for careers that might require an associate degree or industry credential.

Snapshots: Photos from the AACC board of directors’ summer retreat in Washington, D.C.

Dual enrollment — which allows high school students to enroll in college-level courses to earn college credits — dovetails into the department’s four priority areas, Loyd said. They are:

  • Increase students’ access to engagement in higher education, especially in light of the impact the Covid pandemic has had on community college enrollments.
  • Better connect high schools, colleges and careers to create “seamless ecosystems” to pathways to success.
  • Tap opportunities in recently passed legislation, especially the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which will create job opportunities for which people will need training.
  • Multi-tier systems that support students’ basic needs, such as food, housing, security, transportation and childcare.

Loyd detailed how ED is working among those pillars. She highlighted the Biden administration’s proposed 2023 fiscal year funding increases for higher education programs that affect community colleges and their students, noting expanded apprenticeships, larger Pell grants and job-readiness efforts for business and industry sectors, as well as a proposed $200 million program for high schools to better connect with colleges and careers.

Loyd added that the administration also wants to circle back to tuition-free community college, an idea that fell shy of being included in the president’s final pared-down Build Back Better legislation.

“Free community college remains a cornerstone of the administration’s agenda to increase access and affordability,” she said, noting that ED is examining how to advance the idea in new ways.

More than four-year degrees

Loyd noted the importance of community colleges in expanding links between high school, college and career, the second pillar amonf ED’s priority areas. She emphasized the administration’s message that not everyone needs to attend a four-year college to find good-paying careers — a message that has received bipartisan support in Congress.

Two-year degrees and other credentials can help individuals along their chosen career path, Loyd said. She cited that Education Secretary Miguel Cardona has emphasized this to members of Congress during hearings and at public events, and ED will continue to amplify the message.

“Too many mental mindsets are still set in the four-year-college-for-all approach,” she said.

Related article: Straw poll on dual enrollment

ED — which this summer is hosting a series of webinars on dual enrollment — would like more students to take math and English in dual enrollment, as well as expanded dual enrollment opportunities for career and technical education or career-connected courses, Loyd said. Dual enrollment not only allows students to earn college credits, but it provides a chance for them to explore careers they might want to pursue.

Students also can sample potential careers through work-based learning, such as internships and apprenticeships, and do so earlier in school, such as freshman year in high school, she said.

Persistent challenges

Loyd recognized the challenges with dual enrollment. For example, many high schools already offer Advance Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) credentials for which students also can earn college credit. AP/IB programs are better known, better promoted and in more demand, but they are also geared more toward students on a four-year college path. Dual enrollment can serve as a way to infuse equity into credential-offering programs, which ED plans to emphasize with K-12 system superintendents, principals and others, she said.

Another challenge with dual enrollment is the wide variety of ways they are structured and funded across the country. “It’s like the Wild West,” Loyd said.

AACC board members noted other long-standing barriers, such as a requirement by accreditors that dual-enrollment instructors have at least a master’s degree to teach the courses. That reduces the pool of potential teachers, especially during the current national teacher shortage. In addition, there are few CTE teachers who can teach their programs in dual enrollment, board member said.

AACC leaders asked if ED could discuss with accrediting agencies about updating those requirements.

Slippery slope

Several AACC board members observed that, even before the Covid pandemic hit, a growing number of community colleges were leaning on dual enrollment to stabilize dropping overall enrollments. At some two-year colleges, dual enrollment comprised about 60% of total enrollment. And some even offer dual enrollment to middle-school students, which concerned college leaders about course rigor.

Several college leaders also expressed concern that some dual-enrollment programs are using Pell grants to cover the costs of the programs. They noted that this could use up students’ Pell eligibility before they even enter college. Loyd said ED is interested in developing ways to support dual enrollment without exhausting a student’s Pell eligibility.

Other federal programs

The AACC board also heard from representatives from several other federal agencies, including the National Science Foundation (NSF), the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the U.S. Census Bureau.

  • V. Celeste Carter, NSF’s lead Advanced Technological Education (ATE) program director, outlined the various NSF programs for which community colleges are eligible, especially ones related to ATE. She noted new funding opportunities in the CHIP Act recently passed by Congress and expected to be soon signed by President Joe Biden. (See Washington Watch.)
  • Jamal Habibi, chief of staff at USDA’s Rural Housing Service, said that the public, in general, thinks of USDA as a solely food-oriented agency. But it also provides support for rural development, technology, and grants and loans to build facilities.
  • Meghan Maury, senior advisor in the Office of the Director at Census, highlighted various national and local databases that colleges could use in their research on demographics, business and economic climate, and more that could help them in advocacy efforts, program development and student support services.
Federal agencies speakers included (from left): V. Celeste Carter, lead Advanced Technological Education Program director at the National Science Foundation; Meghan Maury, senior advisor in the Office of the Director at the U.S. Census Bureau; and Jamal Habibi, chief of staff in Rural Housing Service at the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

About the Author

Matthew Dembicki
Matthew Dembicki edits Community College Daily and serves as associate vice president of communications for the American Association of Community Colleges.