Dual enrollment can reduce college costs

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Thanks to dual enrollment options, my son graduated high school with 33 credit hours that transferred to his post-secondary institution. Because of this, we were able to save a full year of tuition dollars — $34,000.

As an enrollment management and career development professional, I am disheartened when I talk to families who have no idea about dual enrollment. According to the Michigan Department of Education, the average student participating in dual enrollment only earns half of the credits they could by not fully participating in the dual enrollment options their schools and local colleges offer.

In Michigan, 70 colleges and universities offer dual enrollment to high school students. Many K-12 administrators do not explain this option to parents well enough, or at all.

With the current debate over college debt and the cost of higher education, I can’t imagine why any parent would not embrace the option of dual enrollment, if they knew it could save them and their students significant tuition dollars in the future.

My son now attends Belmont University in Tennessee, where annual tuition is $34,000. By taking college courses as a high school student, he began at the university as a sophomore, which means he can graduate in three years. That’s a year of college paid for by the state of Michigan while he was still living at home and a minor. What a fabulous opportunity!

All 50 states have some policy regarding dual enrollment or dual credit. Pennsylvania is the only state that does not currently offer it to high school students due to lack of funding. Still, the biggest issue is that parents don’t know about or realize the long-term cost savings that can come from encouraging students to participate.

There are many benefits of dual enrollment. High school students can learn in a college setting from a professor, as well as follow a syllabus and college schedule. If they are mid-range to high achieving, they will benefit from the material presented while learning time management, group dynamics and better communication skills.

Students who dual enroll can learn material in a discipline they may be interested in before leaving high school — a great way to begin career planning and try a career on for size. Imagine the dual enrollment student who thinks he may be interested in becoming an engineer. He takes his first CAD class and spends a day job-shadowing someone who has worked as an engineer for 30 years — and hates it! He has used his time wisely by finding out what he doesn’t want to do while earning credit toward a degree he may really enjoy in the future.

Research demonstrates, in an analysis of 1,232 community college students, those who participated in dual enrollment were 3.4 times less likely to require tutoring, and 2.5 times more likely to graduate in two years. Dual-enrolled students are more likely to stay in college because they know what to expect, and they know they can handle it.

College affordability and the student loan debt crisis are at the forefront of media and a prime topic for this year’s presidential race. Rather than suggest a highly illogical possibility like free access to public education, we should be discussing practical ways to minimize college costs, and dual enrollment must be front and center in that discussion.

According to the Michigan Transfer Network, a student who earns an associate degree will earn $400,000 more over their lifetime than a high school graduate; someone with a bachelor’s degree will earn $900,000 more over their career lifetime than the associate-only graduate.

The average college graduate carries debt of $35,000 for a bachelor’s degree. If a student can take the first 30 credits debt-free, perhaps he could reduce that debt — or eliminate it. The dual enrollment and early college programs have potential to move the needle on Gov Gretchen Whitmer’s 60 by 2030, ensuring 60 percent of Michigan residents will achieve a post-secondary credential by 2030 and increase their lifetime earning potential.

Parents need to know about dual enrollment options at their student’s high school before they even start ninth grade. State policy puts the onus on K-12 administrators to provide workshops and meetings to describe the process and benefits — and many don’t have time. Most families only learn of dual enrollment options when their student has exhausted the options for classes at the high school — and that can be as a junior or senior.

Anecdotally, some high school administrators admit they don’t present the option because they feel dual enrollment takes away from their classrooms and leaves them with lower achieving students (the ones who need more attention and help). That’s an ego-driven mistake.

It is important for parents to know their options so they can guide their children wisely toward debt-free college solutions.

Carey Monroe, Ph.D., is vice president of enrollment at Cleary University.

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