State and federal actions for improving early college access

By: | Issue: October, 2017
September 20, 2017

Dual enrollment is designed to increase access and degree attainment. In fact, a 2007 study found that 67 percent of dual-enrollment students enrolled in college after high school (compared to 50 percent of their peers), with 30 percent earning an associate’s degree along with their high school diploma.

Yet students often experience barriers to enrollment.

An ACT policy brief called funding the most significant barrier to preventing greater participation, noting that just eight states eliminate all or most tuition costs. In nine states, students are on the hook for the full cost of participation.

Link to main story: Is early college working?

For some students, cost is a factor. Dual-enrollment students at Missoula College-University of Montana are charged $160 for each class.

“For some students in our rural part of the state, it’s still too much,” says Jordan Patterson, dual enrollment program director. “The low-income students, the ones who think college isn’t for them, are the students we want to capture but we don’t have funding to help offset the costs.”

One problem: Students still enrolled in high school are not eligible for federal financial aid.

In 2016, the U.S. Department of Education launched a pilot program at 44 colleges and universities, allowing high school students taking college credits access to federal Pell Grants.

In April, a bipartisan proposal was introduced in the Senate to expand access to Pell Grants to low-income students taking college credits through dual enrollment programs.

Some states provide funding to improve access. In Vermont, high school students can earn up to 38 credits at no cost. And students who receive free and reduced-price lunch are eligible for a $150 stipend to cover textbooks and transportation to college campuses.

Joye Lyon, associate director of admissions at Johnson State College in Vermont, one of seven institutions that participates in Vermont’s Early College Program, says tuition might still prevent low-income students from completing their degrees after high school.

But such support does help. Lyon says participating in dual enrollment “creates a momentum” that increases students’ drive to graduate from college. “The ability to earn up to 38 free credits by high school graduation is an incredible gift.”

Jodi Helmer is a North Carolina-based writer who frequently contributes to UB.