On February 12, 2013, The Chronicle of Higher Education ran a freely-available piece titled “Serving Our Dual-Enrollment Students.” As I was once a dually enrolled student, I wanted to respond, in a timely manner, to some of what this article contained.
First, Rob Jenkins reminds readers that “most dual-enrollment students are not, literally, adults….One of the best things we can do for dual-enrollment students, then, is to treat them as much as possible just like other college students, with the same expectations, freedoms, and responsibilities.” I can attest to this. I remember being a sixteen year old enrolled in College Algebra. While the class was taught at the high school by faculty from the local community college, the professor did his best to keep the material and assignments at the college level. With the tests counting for more points than our homework, we technically could have had the freedom to not do the homework and count on test points for our grades. I didn’t use this method, but I know some who did and it didn’t work out for the best. These students not only struggled in the class, but most didn’t even finish an associate degree program, which is freely funded by a state program (if attendance and mentoring requirements are met during high school). The college courses let use realize that our success depended on us; a concept oft forgotten in high school where completion points for state-mandated subjects matter more than critical thinking.
Second, Jenkins states “dual-enrollment students often find that, while their advanced high-school courses were demanding in terms of time and effort required, their college courses make different sorts of demands. Students are forced to learn new things, relearn old things in new contexts, and think in unfamiliar ways. Typically, college-level reading and writing require deeper analysis, more synthesis of ideas, and greater practical application.” I couldn’t agree more with this statement! In fact, it may well because of this observation that my two sections of College American History (American History I and II) were the hardest college-level courses I had, graduate school included. These courses forced me to adjust early to larger, more in-depth reading assignments within shorter time spans. Besides the larger research papers we wrote, we also had a constructed response essay for each chapter. These involved choosing one of several prompts and writing on the topic within a short period of time, often only a day or two. The prompts took one of two formats: picture yourself in the scenario or critically think through a situation. On the tests we were expected to write a full-five paragraph (minimum) essay, not one paragraph typically required in high school. After this experience, nothing phased me when I began classes at the university. I knew what to expect and was prepared. Thus I struggled less with the academic adjustments many freshmen face because I already went through the process.
Third, Jenkins writes “many dual-enrollment students also tend to be active at their high schools. They play sports, cheer, serve on the student council, belong to clubs, and participate in drama productions and musical performances. Those are all important aspects of high-school life that I have no desire to deny students…but such activities do occasionally create some conflicts with their college courses.” This is very true. I participated in numerous clubs (including Student Council, Renaissance, and Model UN), was a Girl Scout, served as Junior Class Treasurer, did National History Day my senior year, and competed with the state-wide academic teams (aka trivia bowls). After school everyday but Friday I had either academic team practice or activity meetings. It was usually 4:30 to 5:00 when I returned home. Academic team competed most Saturdays from October through mid-April. During football, volleyball, and basketball seasons I helped run concessions stands to earn money for the organizations (school organizations worked on a rotating schedule for part of the proceeds). For Renaissance, we planned out annual two big events, the academic assembly and Mr. CCHS (a male beauty pageant) plus numerous smaller ones. I also completed the requirements and projects for my Girl Scout Gold Award. These were important parts of my high school experience and I wouldn’t trade them for the world. I know many of my equally busy friends would say the same. In fact, I enjoyed the experiences and camaraderie so much that my senior year when I qualified for the state-level National History Day contest and learned the competition was the same day as academic team districts, I opted to stay with my team. While I wonder how I would have done at History Day, I have no regrets.* In high school, and even college, the extracurriculars and the people one meets and the resulting relationships are just as important as the academics.
Lastly, I’ll add my own observations. In college, much is based on seniority: selection of residence halls, parking availability, earlier class registration, and sometimes student jobs. Having the dual-credit helps students to be ranked higher and have better pickings on campus. As I attended a small, semi-rural high school, only offered fifteen hours of dual credit (College Algebra, American History I and II, and English Composition I and II) were offered. I took all these classes, beginning as a junior. However, I also applied what I learned to gain additional credit, an option also available to students. I used the CLEP test to gain credit for World History I and II, the DSST exam for Modern Middle Eastern History, and then since I had four years of high school Spanish, I took a higher-level college course and received retroactive credit for the skipped course.** This gained me twelve additional hours. So how did this benefit me? I manged to live in my preferred dorm as a freshman, a rare occurrence. By my second year, I had parking normally reserved for third-year students right across the street from my dorm. I also was always among the first to pick classes for my age-group, thus I never was denied a seat for a required course. Plus, had I desired, this extra college credit would have allowed me to graduate a year early. I chose not to do this as I had a full scholarship and instead opted to take extra classes. Others who follow this path can easily use the dual credit and testing options to gain these results. Plus, as Jenkins also pointed out, these methods cost much less than paying for a typical college course. If my memory serves me right, the five courses and three tests only cost about $800 total, the equivalent of approximately two typical courses. Think of the savings…
Did you take any dual credit courses? If so, would you like to share your experiences?
*A slightly modified version paper I submitted was later published. Win-win scenario.
**Most colleges and universities offer retroactive foreign language credit. If you are interested in this option, talk to faculty within the department.