The Pros and Cons of Dual Enrollment in High School

The Pros and Cons of Dual Enrollment in High School
portrait of Ciera Graham, Ph.D.
By Ciera Graham, Ph.D.

Published on January 20, 2021

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Preparing for college can create a lot of uncertainty for students. Many high school students feel anxiety around college applications, standardized tests, juggling work and school, and embarking on a totally new experience.

Dual-enrollment programs can help ease some of this anxiety by providing an opportunity for students to take college courses and earn college credit before entering college. According to a report from the National Center for Education Statistics, one-third of high school students took courses for postsecondary credit in 2019.

But how exactly do dual-enrollment courses and programs work? And what are the biggest pros and cons of enrolling in such a program?

What Is Dual Enrollment?

Earning college credit while still in high school can be extremely rewarding, as it not only allows students to get a head start on their degrees, but also exposes them to the rigors of college courses. Additionally, these programs give students the opportunity to demonstrate their readiness for college life and academics to college admissions committees.

Generally, in a dual-enrollment program, high school students take college-level courses from a two- or four-year college or university. Learners can earn college credit, high school credit, or a combination of both.

In a dual-enrollment program, high school students take college-level courses and earn college credit, high school credit, or a combination of both.

Dual-enrollment programs differ by state, so be sure to look at state and college requirements. You should also work closely with your school counselor to ensure you understand how eligibility works.

For example, Running Start and College in the High School are two popular dual-enrollment programs for high school students in Washington state. The former lets 11th and 12th graders enroll in courses at a local college or university, whereas the latter allows 10th, 11th, and 12th graders to take college-level classes at their own high school.

For more information, refer to this complete list of dual-enrollment programs by state and their corresponding requirements.

The Biggest Pros of Dual Enrollment

Early Exposure to College Life

In BestColleges' 2019 College Prep Survey, 22% of parents felt concerned about their college student's ability to live independently and balance their social life and academics with little to no parental supervision. Similarly, 20% questioned their child's readiness for meeting academic expectations.

Parental fear around college is very real, and many students share these concerns as well. Dual-enrollment courses give high school students an early snapshot of the academic, social, and time demands they'll face in college.

Learners who participate in a dual-enrollment program at a local college get to meet real college students, professors, and staff. They also get the opportunity to adjust to the academic rigor of college classes and participate in co-curricular activities.

Exposure to an educational environment with older adult students provides high school students with a learning opportunity high school simply can't offer. College students understand that the skills required for success and content mastery differ significantly from the skills required in high school. In order to succeed at the college level, students need to take ownership of and accountability for their learning.

Dual-enrollment programs can provide a highly valuable learning experience for high school students, especially first-generation college students, who may lack knowledge of and exposure to college campuses. Performing well in college courses while still in high school strengthens a student's aspirations as well as their confidence in their academic success.

Diverse Array of Classes

Dual-enrollment courses often cover subjects not available at high schools. This helps expand student learning on foreign subjects and provides students with the opportunity to take courses with a more diverse group of learners. Research shows that classroom diversity positively impacts student creativity, motivation, and critical thinking.

Exposure to diverse coursework can also help students formulate clearer academic and college goals and choose a major. Studies indicate that the average college student changes their major three times, and many students enter college undecided about what to study.

By taking diverse classes for credit while still in high school, students get hands-on exposure to a bigger array of subjects that could help them choose a major and career path.

Cost-Effective Way to Earn Your Degree Faster

College tuition has increased exponentially in the last decade, making attending college one of the largest and most expensive investments an individual can make.

The rise in college tuition has left many vulnerable students — including students of color, low-income students, single parents, and students with disabilities — feeling as though college attainment is unattainable without more funding. While dual-enrollment programs differ by state, some states assume all or part of the cost of such programs, allowing students to participate with minimal financial burden.

Most often, the cost of dual enrollment is absorbed primarily by the state, higher education institutions, high schools, and school districts, with parents and students paying only a nominal fee. By working diligently with a school counselor to ensure your college credit transfers to the college of your choice, you could save a substantial amount of money on your higher education.

Dual-enrollment programs can also expedite degree completion. According to a study from Teachers College, Columbia University, 88% of students in dual-enrollment programs stayed in college after high school, with 46% of students who started at a community college and 64% of four-year college students earning a degree within five years.

The Biggest Cons of Dual Enrollment

Challenges Adjusting to College Life

While college can be an exciting time, with many students looking forward to the freedom and adventure college life affords, it can also create undue stress.

Some students may refuse to take college courses on a separate campus because it creates distance and separation from their high school and high school experience. They may experience loneliness and sadness if they have to endure extended time away from their high school friends and social circles.

Participation in high school activities is also meaningful to many students, but having to manage a college course load and travel between a high school and a college campus could lead some learners to feel isolated from their high school friends, teachers, and staff. For juniors and seniors, this is often a time of immense change, and attempting to juggle the demands of college coursework could exacerbate stress.

High school students must learn to take responsibility and ownership of their time — they must learn how to balance classes, social activities, homework, and time with family and friends. Many students are tackling this challenge of taking initiative and ownership of their responsibilities for the very first time in their lives.

College relationships are markedly different, and many students must learn how to advocate for themselves and manage relationships with college personnel directly. Parents are often less directly involved in their child's college education, so students need to figure out how to resolve these concerns by themselves.

Conflicts Between High School and College Demands

Because students enrolled in dual-enrollment programs take high school and college courses at the same time, some college courses may overlap or conflict with the student's high school schedule. If the student has to commute between campuses, this can also create a challenge.

Oftentimes, students have little flexibility in their high school class schedules and can only take certain classes at specific times. Dual-enrollment participants tend to have less time for extracurriculars, causing them to miss out on high school and college activities due to having to negotiate their time between two institutions.

Student involvement is critical to student success. It's also a valuable asset to include on college applications as a way to emphasize your interests and leadership skills. Students who face barriers to school involvement may develop feelings of regret related to missing opportunities for peer engagement and co-curricular learning.

Differences in Dual-Enrollment Credit Acceptance

While some students may be encouraged to take dual-enrollment courses, it's important to know that not all colleges accept credit from these types of programs. This is why high school students should work with their counselors to understand the admission requirements and academic prerequisites for the colleges they plan to apply to.

For example, some credits may be accepted by their college of choice, but may not count toward degree completion. Do your research and take courses whose credits can apply toward your college degree.

Dual-enrollment programs tend to attract students who plan on transferring to public in-state colleges, as these institutions are more likely to accept dual-enrollment credits. Private and out-of-state colleges, by contrast, are less likely to accept such credits.

Weighing the Pros and Cons of Dual Enrollment

Dual-enrollment programs can give you an added advantage in the college admissions process by preparing you for the rigors of college coursework and awarding you credits that count toward your degree. At the same time, dual enrollment can take time away from the high school experience.

As you decide whether to enroll in a dual-enrollment program, make sure you have a comprehensive understanding of the pros and cons of this unique learning option.


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