Over the early months of 2016, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker responded to employers’ persistent calls for a more educated, highly skilled workforce by outlining a series of budgetary and policy initiatives that expand career pathways and make earning a college degree more affordable.
In January, Baker released his FY17 budget recommendation, which increased funding for the Commonwealth Dual Enrollment Partnership by 25%, to $1.25 million. The partnership enables high school students to enroll in courses at a public higher education institution at little to no cost and receive transferable high school and college credit. During the 2013-14 school year, a total of 6,673 (or 5%) of public high school juniors and seniors participated in the program. Across the nation, dual enrollment has been especially effective at addressing college affordability, as well as increasing college access.
Baker included an additional $750,000 to the dual enrollment line item to fund the expansion of STEM Early College High Schools, acting on his goal to increase the number of students who graduate from high school with work experience in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields. However, the growth of these high schools is not guaranteed. The House budget recommendation, which passed in late April, kept funding of the dual enrollment line item at last year’s $1 million, thereby cutting funding for the STEM Early College High School initiative.
The Baker administration also introduced the Commonwealth Commitment “2+2” plan, to address college affordability and accelerate degree completion at public institutions. The program provides added financial incentives to Massachusetts’s community college students who transfer to a public four-year college and complete a bachelor’s degree within four years.
The Massachusetts Department of Higher Education estimates that participating students will save an average of $5,090 over four years. Savings accumulate as community college students on track to complete an associate degree within 2.5 years transfer to a state university or UMass campus and meet three requirements: enroll full time at a state university or UMass campus; commit to completing a bachelor’s degree within two years; and earn a cumulative 3.0 GPA. Students who fulfill these criteria will receive a 10% rebate for tuition and mandatory fees at the end of each successfully completed semester. Students also benefit from a freeze on tuition and mandatory fees and, when they enroll in a bachelor’s degree program, receive an additional MassTransfer tuition credit.
Administration officials tout the plan as the first in the nation to address timely baccalaureate degree attainment by unifying all 28 of the Commonwealth’s public higher education institutions under the program umbrella.
Aligning with the Commonwealth Dual Enrollment Partnership, students who participate in dual enrollment in high school and choose to attend a community college upon graduation may also take advantage of this plan—saving even more, and completing a degree even faster.
The program kicks off in fall 2016 with six eligible programs of study at state universities and UMass campuses, three eligible programs at the Massachusetts College of Art & Design, and five eligible programs at Mass Maritime Academy. By fall 2017, at least 10 more programs will be added.
For more on regional dual enrollment and admissions policies, please see NEBHE’s Policy Spotlight: Dual Admissions for Transfer Students.
Candace Williams is a NEBHE policy and research analyst.