Dual Enrollment Programs Gaining Prominence as Means to Enhance College Prep Options - Higher Education
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Dual Enrollment Programs Gaining Prominence as Means to Enhance College Prep Options

by Jamaal Abdul-Alim

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Dual enrollment represents an effective way to get more students to graduate from high school with a free two-year degree, but what happens after those students enroll in a four-year college remains a murky picture, a leading researcher on dual enrollment programs said.

“We know that they earn credits at a higher rate,” said Dr. Melinda Mechur Karp, a senior research associate at the Community College Research Center within Teachers College at Columbia University. “We don’t have good data yet all the way to completion.”

Karp made her remarks during an interview with Diverse that followed a presentation she gave Friday at a panel discussion titled “Increasing College & Career Readiness through Dual Enrollment: Research, Policies & Practices.”

The forum – convened by the American Youth Policy Forum — coincided with what Karp described as a renewed interest in dual enrollment programs, which are programs in which students earn high school credit and credit toward an associate’s degree simultaneously without having to pay college tuition.

The idea is to give students an edge by enabling them to knock out core college work by the time they graduate from high school.

The forum also shined the spotlight on the DeVry University Advantage Academy, or DUAA – a dual enrollment program located on DeVry’s Chicago campus that offers Network System Administration and Web Graphic Design programs.

And the forum took place in conjunction with the release of a new report that the Becker Friedman Institute for Research in Economics at the University of Chicago prepared for DeVry.

The report – officially titled “Survey Assessment of the Advantages Offered by DeVry University Advantage Academy” – uncovered insights that were both encouraging and worrisome.

On the one hand, 76 percent of the surveyed DUAA students indicated that they strongly agreed or somewhat agreed that DUAA had “prepared them well for what they are currently doing.”

And about a quarter of graduates from when the program began in 2004 earned additional degrees in higher education from institutions, mostly at DeVry and other Chicago area colleges and universities, but also from institutions as diverse as Tennessee State University and Pennsylvania State University. The percentage could ultimately be higher because the most recent cohorts may still be working their way through college and could graduate before the six-year time frame that the federal government uses to determine college graduation rates.

On the other hand, the vast majority of DUAA graduates reported working in the food or service industries, followed by technology, management and retail sectors.

And among DUAA graduates, 41 percent reported being unemployed at the time of the survey. However, the reasons behind the unemployment varied, the study found.

Specifically, over half of unemployed respondents reported actively seeking work, but all of the unemployed respondents who weren’t seeking work indicated that the primary reason why was so they could focus on their education.

DeVry officials who spoke at the panel discussion emphasized statistics that showed students indicated they felt prepared for college.

“The statistic that I found most telling was that 90 percent of all the respondents said they would recommend an Advantage Academy to another,” said Sharon Thomas Parrott, president of the DeVry Foundation, a private, not-for-profit organization that supports K-12 education initiatives and workforce development.

Scarlett Howery, president at Devry University’s Columbus Metro academy, said since the program began in 2006 in Columbus, Ohio, 100 percent of the students have earned high school diplomas and some college credit, while 90 percent earned an associate’s degree. DeVry also has set up Advantage Academies in Decatur, Ga., and Houston, Texas.

“I don’t know that there are that many programs with that kind of success,” Howery said of the program she oversees in Columbus.

She said the keys to the program’s success are the support services that students get from DeVry faculty and staff and through the Columbus City Schools.

“We have forever changed the lives of these students for the better,” Howery said, specifying that the Advantage Academy had given the students an associate’s degree, and confidence to move on to a career.

“We have given them quite an advantage,” Howery said, adding that internships are also an important component of the program.

Karp, who said she hadn’t yet reviewed the University of Chicago report on DeVry’s Advantage Academy in Chicago, cautioned that research has yet to establish a causal link between dual enrollment programs and future student success.

Of all the studies that have been done on dual enrollment programs, she said, she was not aware of any that had used random assignment – considered the gold standard of research.

Since dual enrollment students must apply to be in the program, their success – from high school graduation rates to higher GPAs — could be attributable to individual motivation, Karp said.

“We keep seeing the same association,” Karp said of the correlation between positive academic outcomes and dual enrollment students. “It’s not a cause. But it’s as close as we’re going to get.”

Other speakers included Georgia Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, who touted career academies, another form of dual enrollment where industry helps shape the curriculum, as the kind of innovation that needs to be embraced in order to get better outcomes for students.

He said the number one reason students drop out of school in Georgia is because “they don’t see the relevance in what they’re learning,” but that career academies rectify that situation with their specific focus on preparing students for careers. The graduation rate at Georgia’s career academies is 98 percent, he said.

“I think workforce development is what drives the economy,” Cagle said. “We have jobs but we don’t have skilled workers to fill the jobs. That is a fundamental problem in our country today. The question becomes how do we do that? … Career academies are a way to do it.”

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