College prep Pell-powered dual-enrollment programs

New funds give low-income students a chance to get jump-start on college credits

Some low-income high school students in Adams State University’s service area, the rural valleys of southern Colorado, live up to 50 or 60 miles from campus.

That adds several hours of distance to the financial hurdles that stand in the way of higher education. Thanks to a new federal pilot program, these students can now use Pell Grants to take dual-enrollment courses.

And Adams State will deliver some of the classes remotely to students eager to begin earning college credits. “Through live-streaming video and online delivery, we can reach students who can’t make it to campus, even though they’re academically prepared,” says Walter Roybal, associate vice president for extended studies. “Some of these students would have to travel for two hours, not accounting for weather.”

Adams State will work with 14 school districts in the region to serve about 400 students over the next three years. Many of the districts, though rural, have beefed up bandwidth and other tech equipment significantly in recent years, Roybal says.

Southwest Tennessee Community College in Memphis is among the other 43 four- and two-year institutions participating in the program, which the Department of Education launched in May.

Vanessa Dowdy, Southwest Tennessee’s recruitment director, says students who begin using Pell Grants in high school could run the risk of using up their six-year eligibility before they get their college diplomas. But they shouldn’t need the Pell funds to last that long because they will have earned a number of credits in high school and will also be better prepared to move more quickly through college coursework.

By the numbers

10,000: Number of students who will have the opportunity to access approximately $20 million in Federal Pell Grants to take dual-enrollment courses provided by colleges and high schools

Source: U.S. Department of Education

“It’s all about the rigor,” she adds. “There are 10th-graders who are high achievers, for instance, who are college ready. This is a prime opportunity for them take advantage of the fact that they are brilliant.”

Other students will take courses to better prepare them for college work.

The school system in surrounding Shelby County has traditionally paid for students to take dual-enrollment courses with the college. The Pell Grants, then, will help students buy books and other supplies not covered by the district, Dowdy says.

Some students will take classes at their high school while others will come to Southwest Tennessee’s campus. The college will use an early-alert system to quickly provide tutoring and other assistance to anyone who is struggling.

In the spring of 2016, 585 students took dual-enrollment courses with the college. During the pilot, Southwest Tennessee plans to add another 500 students over the next three years.

At the University of Nevada, Reno, dual-enrollment will focus solely on engineering for 10 low-income students in the first year of the pilot program. The university expects the demand for professional engineers to increase substantially in Nevada in the coming years.

“We wanted to focus on the needs of the state,” says Rita Escher, the university’s director of academic and opportunity support programs.

University leaders will work with the Washoe County School District to identify students who are academically prepared to take college courses.

“Students will get tutoring, advising and other support services to make sure they’re successful,” Escher says. “Once they access the Pell Grant, that starts the clock ticking on their lifetime eligibility.”

The goal is for these students to finish college in four years—or even three, in the case of high school juniors who may be able to earn a full year of college credit before graduating. The university, however, can guarantee the credits would be accepted only at Nevada, Reno, Escher adds.

“The purpose of the pilot is too see what works,” she says. “Hopefully, there is the possibility in the near future that low-income high school students could access Pell Grants to keep down the cost of earning a college degree.” 

Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick is a life-long journalist. Prior to writing for District Administration he worked in daily news all over the country, from the NYC suburbs to the Rocky Mountains, Silicon Valley and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He's also in a band.

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