Dual enrollment gives students head start

Published 12:00 am Saturday, July 16, 2011

By Dr. Freida Hill and Dr. Joe Morton

“If anything is certain, it is that change is certain. The world we are planning for today will not exist in this form tomorrow,” noted Philip Crosby, management consultant. And that, my fellow Alabamians, is a fact.

Revolutionary changes have taken place and continue to take place in every aspect of our lives. To name a few: communications (think cellular phones, e-mail, social media); transportation (think hybrid vehicles and super-sonic air travel); entertainment (think movies on-demand, 3-D TVs, e-readers).

Young people today have more choices than ever and that extends to education options, especially at the high school level where savvy students can simultaneously prepare for a career and earn college credits while earning a diploma. More and more students are pursuing this option through the dual enrollment program in career technical education.

Dual enrollment is a partnership between high schools and two-year colleges. Students who meet certain eligibility criteria can participate. The program offers young people a path to self-sufficiency and independence by equipping them with job-ready skills while providing the foundation for a certificate or a degree. Students may also earn dual credits in academic transfer courses such as those in science, mathematics, and the humanities.

Career preparedness – learning to DO something

Dual enrollment allows students to take college classes in a field for which they have an aptitude or interest; associate with like-minded peers; and have a more hands-on approach to learning. In short, it’s learning that translates into earning.

As the high school years come to an end, many students are anxious to graduate and get a job, continue their education, or both. The dual enrollment program provides these students with the skills to do so. Armed with a high school diploma in one hand and a certificate or credential in the other, the individual can confidently step through the door marked opportunity.

Dropout prevention

Dual enrollment programs go a step beyond traditional classroom settings by incorporating actual hands-on training into the curriculum. Class sizes are generally smaller, which allows more one-on-one teacher-student interaction, and training with actual equipment provides “real” rather than “realistic” experience.

The students know they are enrolled in college-level courses that also count toward their high school diploma. Such motivation increases the likelihood of graduation thus decreasing the probability of dropping out.

According to the America’s Promise Alliance and Johns Hopkins University Every Child a Graduate Center, Alabama has experienced a significant increase in its graduation rate since 2008. In fact Alabama ranks 4th in the nation in the percentage increase in graduation rate in its recently released national report. While this progress is moving our state in the right direction, there remain far too many students who choose to leave the K-12 education system before obtaining a diploma. According to Civic Enterprises a high percentage of high school dropouts report “classes were not interesting,” calling for alternatives to traditional instructional delivery methods.

The dual enrollment program serves as an excellent example of a more engaging instructional delivery method that does not denigrate current high school curriculum, but rather expands options for students. Dual enrollment essentially serves a “dual” purpose – an incentive to stay in school and a competitive edge in the job market upon graduation.

Economic development tool

Research confirms that workforce availability has become the number one criterion when businesses look to expand or locate in an area. While Alabama’s metropolitan areas certainly have much to offer a prospective business, it’s the state’s rural areas that have seemingly been left behind the economic power curve.

The job-specific skills gained through a dual enrollment program can level the playing field giving rural communities a better shot at landing an industry. Thomasville in Clarke County can attest to this having recently landed a Canadian-based steel manufacturer. The firm itself cited the availability of a trained workforce as the deciding factor.

Recruiting an industry, especially to a rural community, is a major coup. In addition to better-paying jobs, enhanced quality of life, and economic growth, other industry prospects soon follow.

New, existing, and expanding industries are looking for workers with skills, and dual enrollment is one way our education and workforce systems can respond. To be successful short-term and long-term, we should consider a three-prong approach to education: identification, cultivation, and preparation. Identify a student’s interests and talents, and then cultivate these interests and talents through programs such as dual enrollment, so the individual is prepared for a successful future.

The State Board of Education has approved funding for several thousand students to participate in career technical education dual enrollment free of charge over the past three years. These grants are administered by the Workforce Development Division of the Department of Postsecondary Education. The Alabama Community College System and Alabama’s public high schools are proud to help high school students get a jump start on their career and postsecondary education. For more information on the dual enrollment program, contact your area community college.

Dr. Freida Hill is Chancellor of the Alabama Community College System/Alabama Department of Postsecondary Education and may be contacted at accs.chancellor@dpe.edu. Dr. Joe Morton is Superintendent of the Alabama Department of Education and may be reached at jmorton@alsde.edu.