These days, most good entry-level jobs require some kind of postsecondary credential. A smart investment is helping high school students earn college credit for qualifying coursework, giving them a head start on achieving their goals.
But even though dual-credit enrollment has skyrocketed in recent years, cash-strapped and rural districts still are challenged to offer dual-credit options. Financial barriers persist for low-income students, despite state subsidies and some local assistance. State lawmakers should target these inequities to maximize this time- and money-saving option without creating an unfunded mandate that would stick local districts with the tab.
Besides the obvious benefits, there are many reasons to support a robust statewide system of dual enrollment options as a component of basic education. Studies show that students who enroll in dual-credit courses are more likely to graduate high school and more likely to pursue and attain advanced degrees.
A 2017 Columbia University Teachers College analysis of students enrolled in dual-enrollment courses in fall 2010 showed that 64% of Washington’s dual-enrollment students had enrolled in community college by age 20; another 25% had enrolled in a four-year program. More than half the state’s former dual enrollment students who enrolled in community college after high school earned a college degree or certificate within five years.
Low-income students and students of color can especially benefit from the cost savings and mentoring aspects of dual enrollment. According to the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, 73,349 low-income students took a dual credit course during the 2017-18 school year. Since 2012, state appropriations have subsidized dual credit test fees for many low-income students — including 9,208 students’ fees last year — but there is no permanent funding. Education advocates say the funds have reached only a fraction of the students who would benefit.
Last session, legislators directed the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction to study ways to maximize student access and enrollment in dual-credit programs. OSPI’s recommendations include phasing in full funding of dual-credit costs for students and their families, and helping districts secure sufficient resources. The office expects a bill to be filed this month that would make dual-credit coursework free for every Washington student by 2023.
Although the details remain to be seen, the idea is worthy in principle. Lawmakers should find ways to ensure more students have access to these opportunities.