Making an Educated Choice About Dual Enrollment
By Dr. Mark D. McClain
Praying over my students at the start of each Cedarville University chemistry class, I regularly ask God to grant these aspiring scientists, pre-meds, and pharmacists a sense of stewardship. They are blessed with time, energy, and gifts. Their education is not really about amassing credits or even earning a degree—it’s about arduous equipping to perform those “good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10) As homeschool parents, we want each of our students to be prepared for his or her life calling, and that means higher education in many cases. Why not get a jump start on college? Before you sign up for dual enrollment, let’s explore it more fully and think through the issues.
Dual enrollment (a.k.a. concurrent, postsecondary, or joint enrollment) allows students to earn both high school and college credit for a college-level learning experience. Forty-six states have statewide policies for such programs. Homeschool students can easily add dual-enrollment courses to their schedule, but parents usually have to pay for tuition because state-funded grants (often financed by lottery revenues) are often coordinated with the local public school system.
Dual-enrollment courses are offered in various formats; the most common involves face-to-face instruction over a traditional semester or quarter. Many colleges and universities offer courses in an online form or a blend of face-to-face and online. Be warned that the quality of online course design and depth of learning can vary tremendously! A high-speed Internet connection is generally needed to access media, and simultaneous participation will be required at times for synchronous course delivery. Asynchronous courses allow students to work according to their own schedules on group projects, discussion forums, and course materials. Online courses don’t require travel or limit options to the colleges in your area. Due to the flexible learning environment, online learning options are becoming much more popular. According to a large national survey, public and private high school student participation in online learning for credit increased from 10% in 2008 to 18% in 2009.1
Besides the mode of content delivery, I think it is much more important to consider the values of the institution. Most dual-enrollment courses are offered by public colleges and universities. In fact, many states describe the public school system as a preschool through college enterprise (P–16). Part-time enrollment in public school may be required to qualify for free tuition—check with your state’s department of education. Some public high school teachers are authorized to teach dual enrollment courses in the public school, further blurring the borders between secondary and higher education.
Although there is a place for public education, most homeschool parents I know insist on Biblically based instruction from role models living out Godly character. A Christian college or university seems to be the best solution, and in fact, many offer dual-enrollment courses (e.g., Cedarville Academy, Liberty University) in face-to-face and/or online delivery. Some online Christian schools include opportunities for homeschool dual enrollment (e.g., Sevenstar Academy). Homeschooled students can explore additional options through which they can earn college credit: Advanced Placement (AP), College Level Examination Program (CLEP), or camps/conferences/ministries with credit options (e.g., Worldview Academy, Summit Ministries).
Whatever the delivery format or type of institution, the goal for the Christian student is the same: becoming better equipped for kingdom service. I encourage students to seek academically challenging courses and peer groups in which to exercise their gifts. Too often students struggling in my chemistry class tell me their previous dual-enrollment coursework was substandard, despite the “good” grade. Capabilities are much more important than credit.
Why are so many parents and students choosing dual enrollment? Motivations certainly vary, but common reasons include these:
• Saving money. Viewed as an educational “buy one, get one free” offer, dual enrollment makes a lot of economic sense. Tuition expenses at government-run or approved, in-state, private colleges may even be paid by your state. Many Christian colleges and universities offer dual-enrollment programs with significant tuition discounts. You’ll also save money on books in the long run, buying them once for dual credit.
• Saving time. Dual enrollment can hasten college degree completion or reduce a student’s academic load in college. Look for accredited programs to facilitate transfer. Earned credit may affect eligibility for freshman scholarships, so check with your intended college.
• Testing the waters. As parents, we desire to train our children “in the nurture and admonition of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4) and to give them appropriate opportunities to show a heart of wisdom. Rigorous courses can confirm a student’s readiness for college—or reveal areas for concentrated remediation. Many parents use dual-enrollment programs to provide a limited introduction to classroom instruction and group work.
• Exploring academic challenges. I’ve talked with lots of parents who accelerated their student’s learning progress in areas of gifting. Providing instruction (or even finding curricula) for advanced learners can be a challenge! In my university chemistry classes, many students from abroad have completed high school coursework that is more advanced than comparable high school coursework required in the U.S. I believe our children deserve the same opportunities.
• Sizing up a school. While overnight stays, tours, and class visits are helpful, there’s no better way to evaluate a promising college than by enrolling in a class. Does the institution deliver what it promises? Dual enrollment also gives the college a real-world evaluation of the high school applicant; solid performance in coursework helps facilitate full-time admission to competitive schools.
• Preparing for success. A recent report from the Community College Research Center showed that dual-enrollment students were statistically more likely to persist in college and earn higher grades than peers who had not dual enrolled.2 Such academic challenge provides the opportunity to gain confidence, develop skills, and succeed.
Ready or Not?
Although dual-enrollment courses provide many opportunities, parents need to consider carefully whether a student is ready for success. Dual-enrollment credit appears on an official college transcript. Every student wants to start off on the right foot, making a good impression for full-time admission. Beyond academic capabilities, you need to evaluate whether or not your student is:
• Grounded. The successful student is emotionally and spiritually ready for college-level demands and responsibilities. It requires hard work, and professors can be demanding! Students also must be confident in their faith and discerning enough to participate in adult-level discussions. Parents obviously need to carefully evaluate course content and the teacher’s worldview. I’ve heard too many stories about good kids who lost their way when they followed unworthy role models.
• Determined. Entering into an academic environment with college-aged peers requires the successful student to overcome many challenges. At times students may doubt they truly “belong,” and consequently their contributions to a group project may be stifled. Successful students persevere through disappointment. My college students (and children!) enjoy hearing how I flunked my first graduate school exam in Advanced Organic Chemistry, yet finished the semester with a B .
• Independent. One of my goals in teaching General Chemistry is to help freshman students accept responsibility for their own learning. I provide instruction, feedback, and encouragement, but most of the learning occurs outside of my classroom. Independence is also a critical component of success, because college work is solely the student’s responsibility. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 governs the release of educational records beyond the high school level; the student, regardless of age, must give written permission for grade release to parents.3
In the end, you need to ask yourself, Has my student demonstrated sufficient wisdom (skill in living), perseverance (determined action), and maturity (earned independence) to thrive in dual enrollment? Many students will be ready, and the rewards can be wonderful for those who work hard. Choose dual-enrollment courses with the same care that you choose your homeschool curricula. Don’t compromise your educational philosophy to save a few dollars.
Mark McClain is husband to Jill and a homeschooling dad to five school-aged children. He is Professor of Chemistry at Cedarville University and directs dual enrollment for Cedarville Academy (www.cedarvilleacademy.com) in his role as Associate Dean, Lifelong Learning and International Programs. You may reach Mark at firstname.lastname@example.org.
1. You may request a copy of this report (download a PDF) at the following website address: http://www.tomorrow.org/speakup/learning21Report_2010_Update.html.
2. Hughes, Katherine. L. 2010. “Dual Enrollment: Postsecondary/Secondary Partnerships to Prepare Students,” Journal of College Science Teaching 39(6):12–13, http://inpathways.net/postsecondary_secondary_dual.pdf.
Copyright 2010. Originally appeared in The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, Fall 2010. Used with permission. Visit them at Schoolhouse Store, where shipping is always free (U.S. only)!