Dual Enrollment: Not Just for Public Colleges

As the price of college continues to surge, growing numbers of high school students are turning to dual enrollment as a way to take college-level courses while still in high school and earn college credit at little to no cost. Dual enrollment programs are often thought of as the bailiwick of public colleges—but in New England especially, private colleges are increasingly the providers of dual enrollment opportunities as well.

In a dual enrollment program, students take courses directly on their local college or university campus instead of on their high school campus. The most recent data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) reveal that 1.4 million high school students across the country enrolled in dual enrollment courses in the 2010-11 school year. About 2,000 U.S. public and private colleges and universities offer dual enrollment options for high school students, with community colleges offering approximately 70% of the dual enrollment courses taken by students each year.

While funding for dual enrollment varies by state, many states subsidize the cost for high school students to take college-level courses at public colleges and universities at reduced rates, or, in some cases, no out-of-pocket expense. Students are then able to use the college credits earned through dual enrollment courses while in high school toward a college degree, which can reduce the financial burden and time toward degree completion.

In New England, some states are considering expanding dual enrollment opportunities by broadening funding eligibility to include private institutions. In Massachusetts, for instance, Gov. Charlie Baker recently proposed adding $250,000 in the FY 2017 budget to expand the state’s dual enrollment program (the Commonwealth Dual Enrollment Partnership). If passed, this funding would expand the Partnership’s eligibility to include certain private, nonprofit colleges and universities (rather than exclusively public institutions).

Private, nonprofit colleges play a major role in the region, representing 57% of degree-granting institutions in New England, compared with 35% nationwide. Many high school students in the region live closer to a private college than a public one. As such, expanding dual enrollment opportunities at private institutions would extend the benefits of dual enrollment to more local high school students and represent an opportunity for private institutions to better serve their local communities, increase access to higher education, and potentially attract future applicants.

New England states also are showing greater interest in strengthening and sustaining dual enrollment partnerships among K-12, private institutions, and community colleges. In Bridgeport, Conn., a partnership between the Bridgeport Public Schools and Fairfield University, University of Bridgeport, and Housatonic Community College enables high school students to take introductory-level courses for college credit. Bridgeport Public Schools covers the cost of tuition for students and the partnership aims to connect more students with local colleges in order to encourage college readiness and success.

At Wentworth Institute of Technology in Boston, dual enrollment opportunities enable students in the Boston Public Schools system to earn college credit while also receiving credit toward a high school diploma. Each year, approximately 30-50 high school seniors who are interested in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) take freshman-level STEM courses at Wentworth. Not only does this provide students with increased exposure to STEM subjects, it also enables students to experience academic life at Wentworth and expand their understanding of what college is really like. The program also increases Wentworth’s exposure to student groups the institution has historically had a harder time recruiting: women and students of color. Thus, the dual enrollment program at Wentworth provides the opportunity to enhance higher education opportunities for Boston’s youth as well as create a pipeline to STEM careers for minority and underserved students.

Smith College in Northampton, Mass., has also sustained a long-time partnership between with Northampton High School (NHS). Since 1990, NHS students have taken Smith courses at no cost to the students or the school district. In 2014-15, 140 NHS students took 168 courses at Smith. Offering dual enrollment options to local high school students is just one way Smith contributes to the local community.

In addition to the numerous private colleges with dual enrollment programs not highlighted here, NEBHE anticipates even more private colleges will start their own programs in the near future. Given the region’s drive to produce more college graduates—despite a declining number of high school graduates—and private colleges’ unique role in providing access to postsecondary education in New England, the region’s high school students should expect to continue to benefit from private colleges’ dual enrollment programs.

Erika Blauth and Sarah Hadjian were policy research interns at NEBHE while completing master’s degrees in higher education at the Harvard University Graduate School of Education in 2015-16.


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