Understanding Dual Enrollment for High School Students Learn About Online Programs and Determine If Dual Enrollment is Right for You

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Michelle McAnaney Founder, The College Spy Read bio

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Shelley Zansler Read bio

As they begin to think about college, many high school students may find they want something different out of their high school experiences. Whether students are looking to get a head start on earning college credits, explore subjects that aren’t covered in traditional high school classes, take on a more rigorous or engaging workload or get an early glimpse of life after high school, dual enrollment can be an excellent route to take. Dual enrollment allows students to earn college credit while in high school, and it can be extremely beneficial. Studies have found a positive correlation between dual enrollment and short- and long-term student success, and students who participate in dual enrollment are more likely to earn degrees and to do so sooner than other students.

However, it’s important for students and their families to have a full understanding of dual enrollment before jumping into a program. Keep reading for information about dual enrollment programs and how they compare with other college-level academic programs, and gain advice and insights from dual enrollment insiders.

2018 Spotlight: Online Dual Enrollment Programs

While many dual enrollment opportunities take place on campuses, students also can find online programs that make dual enrollment a little more convenient. Through online dual enrollment programs, students can still earn college credit without needing to commute to campus. Students can check out these online dual enrollment programs or search for specific programs in their areas.

  • ASU Prep Digital

    This dual enrollment program provided by Arizona State University is an extremely versatile way for students to earn college credits online. ASU Prep Digital gives students the option to enroll part-time, taking individual college classes, or enroll in a full-time diploma-granting program. Students also have access to summer internships and camps, personalized feedback from instructors, college planning help and more.

  • Bay College High School Dual Enrollment

    Michigan’s Bay College provides online dual enrollment courses for high school students and eligible home school students. After taking a short online orientation course, students can choose from a range of courses, and the Michigan Transfer Wizard can help students choose courses that are most likely to transfer between colleges.

  • Belhaven University High Scholars Program

    Belhaven’s High Scholars was designed for high school students and gap year students who want to earn college credits from home. Students can earn up to 24 credits and approach a variety of subjects from a biblical perspective. A sense of community is developed through weekly, live online discussions.

  • Bridgeway Academy

    Bridgeway Academy is an excellent homeschooling resource that offers online dual enrollment for high school students. Its dual enrollment program connects high school juniors and seniors with online college courses provided by partner colleges.

  • DeSales University Dual Enrollment for High School Students

    DeSales University offers reduced tuition to dually enrolled high school juniors and seniors. Online credits earned in high school will directly transfer to the university and have the potential to transfer to other institutions as well.

  • Ferris State University Dual Enrollment

    Ferris State University provides dual enrollment online, on its own campus and at high school campuses. Courses are taught by college professors and fulfill high school and college requirements. Dual enrollment students who continue studying at Ferris after high school graduation may be eligible to receive a $1,000 scholarship.

  • Forest Trail Academy

    Forest Trail Academy is a high school that partners with Waldorf University in Iowa to give students the opportunity to earn associate degrees while in high school. Online classes are taught by Waldorf’s college professors, and students pay per class, not per credit.

  • Gallatin College Dual Enrollment for High School Students

    Through the dual enrollment program at Montana State University’s Gallatin College, high school students can take college classes online or in person, at the college campus or at their high schools. Dually enrolled students pay half tuition and aren’t subject to any additional university fees.

  • Grand Canyon University

    Grand Canyon University has extensive online course offerings for dually enrolled students as well as offerings on campus and at high schools. Students who continue studying at GCU after high school graduation will still be eligible for freshman scholarships.

  • Landmark College High School Online Dual Enrollment

    Landmark College emphasizes student support in its online dual enrollment program. Despite courses taking place online, class sizes remain small so professors can give students individualized instruction and feedback. Professors also are skilled in providing instruction to neurodiverse communities, and they work with an on-campus liaison to make sure high school and gap year students get the support they need to succeed.

  • Liberty University Online Academy Dual Enrollment Program

    Liberty University specializes in online higher education, so dually enrolled high school students will complete coursework in a virtual classroom of college peers. These classes are largely self-paced and grant three or four college credits each. Students receive half credit toward their high school diplomas.

  • Midlands Technical College Dual Enrollment

    High school students can take some of Midland’s college courses online, or they can look into courses taught on high school campuses or at MTC’s six regional campuses. While students who take online classes are responsible for tuition, those who take more than six credits per semester may be eligible to receive South Carolina Lottery Tuition Assistance.

  • University System of Georgia eCore

    Through eCore, students can begin taking college classes online as early as their freshman year. While the program is provided by the University System of Georgia, residents and non-residents alike can apply and receive the same tuition rates. Students may be eligible for dual enrollment-specific funding, and eCore coursework can help students meet the academic rigor requirements for the Hope Scholarship after graduation. Credits will transfer to schools within the University System of Georgia.

Dual Enrollment Explained

Dual enrollment is a unique opportunity for high school students to take college classes while earning their high school diplomas. Students are enrolled in both their high schools and, generally, nearby community colleges or other postsecondary institutions, where they take college courses. This gives students the opportunity to get a head start on college and get a taste of college-level work.

Dual enrollment programs can take a few different forms. Some programs have high school students go to a nearby college to take their courses. This allows students to be fully immersed in a college setting with college students as peers. “Spending time on a college campus is a wonderful experience that can ease the transition to college,” says college admissions expert and former high school guidance counselor Michelle McAnaney. “Students will meet college students who may serve as role models. Additionally, time spent on a college campus can assist students with the college search process. They will have a better idea of what kind of college they would like to attend.”

These dual enrollment courses are taught by college professors who not only are qualified experts in their fields but who also can provide students with college recommendation letters. A huge benefit of taking dual enrollment courses directly through a local college is that the credits earned in high school have a high chance of fully transferring to that college, should students choose to enroll there after graduation.

Concurrent enrollment programs take place at students’ own high schools or at one particular high school in a given school district. These convenient programs allow students to remain in a familiar setting while still enabling them to take college-level courses in high school. These courses may be taught by college professors or approved high school teachers and are comprised only of dually enrolled high school students.

If available, students may also want to take advantage of Early College High School (ECHS) programs, in which students attend courses at local colleges — typically community colleges — and simultaneously pursue their diplomas in courses taught by high school teachers while also earning college credits in classes taught by college professors and predominantly comprised of college students. These programs tend to let students take more college credits than other forms of dual enrollment, which often limit students to one or two classes per semester. A study published in 2017 found that by the time they finish high school, ECHS students earn 21.6 college credits on average. Dedicated students may be able to earn associate degrees by the time they graduate from high school.

Dual enrollment is usually reserved for high school juniors and seniors (though this isn’t absolute) and eligibility varies by school. Students can get detailed information from their school counselors. McAnaney suggests that students and their families check with prospective colleges to see if credits earned through dual enrollment will transfer. Colleges vary in their policies. However, she also says students shouldn’t fret too much if their credits don’t transfer to their dream schools. “College admissions decisions are very difficult to predict,” she says. “The college the student ultimately attends may accept the credit. Additionally, admissions counselors look favorably upon students who have challenged themselves with dual enrollment courses. Even if the credit does not transfer, achieving a good grade in the course could help a student’s admissions chances.”

Is Dual Enrollment Right for You?

Dual enrollment offers many perks and can be a great choice for students looking to get a head start or a change of pace. However, it’s not for everyone. Students and their families should be sure to check the specific details of any dual enrollment programs they’re considering to and weigh the following pros and cons.

Pros
  • Dual enrollment can save you money on your college degree.
  • Students get a head start on college credits, potentially earning enough to graduate a semester or even a year early, or, a McAneney points out, have space in their schedules to double major.
  • “Dual enrollment courses give students the opportunity to practice being college students. They will enter college with a better understanding of college professors’ expectations,” says McAnaney. “Dual enrollment professors know which students in their courses are in high school and still learning what is expected. They often make their expectations clear and are more likely to be flexible as students learn the ropes.”
  • There is potential to earn an associate degree while in high school.
  • Colleges offer a greater variety of classes, so students may find dual enrollment more engaging.
  • Students can explore their chosen majors early.
  • Students may be more likely to pursue full degree programs after graduating.
  • A college environment is better suited to some students’ social preferences and maturity levels.
  • Dual enrollment can provide increased access to college courses for a range of students, including those from low-income households, with neurological differences or physical disabilities or who live in areas with limited proximity to rigorous coursework.
Cons
  • “Dual enrollment courses usually are not considered as rigorous as AP courses,” warns McAnaney. “Academic rigor is important in the college admissions process. If a student is planning to attend a selective college, AP courses will be more impressive to college admissions counselors.”
  • Credit earned through dual enrollment may not transfer to all schools.
  • Depending on the program, courses may not be taught by college professors.
  • Student athletes may affect their eligibility for college sports.
  • Traveling between high school and college campuses can be difficult.
  • Students who travel to college campuses spend more time away from established friends.
  • Earning credits early can shorten the college experience students may be looking forward to.
  • Entering college with credits can affect a student’s class standing and scholarship eligibility.
  • “Some high schools do not weight dual enrollment courses in the same way as honors and AP classes when calculating GPA,” McAnaney notes. “Therefore, students who typically take honors and AP classes could find that even an A in a dual enrollment course brings down that GPA. Students should discuss their specific circumstances with their high school counselors. I have worked with students at the top of their classes who refused to take dual enrollment classes because they would lower their GPAs. I am aware of situations where a would-be valedictorian became the salutatorian because of an A in a dual enrollment class.”

How Dual Enrollment Stands Out

Students considering dual enrollment may find themselves comparing it against programs such as Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB). While all of these programs expose students to postsecondary work, there are a few key differences.

Unlike AP or IB, dual enrollment grades appear on both high school and college transcripts. McAnaney reminds student that this provides additional documentation students can include in their college applications, and it can affect transfer of credit between institutions, especially if students take courses outside of general education or core.

AP and IB programs also take place at high schools. Classes are taught by high school teachers exclusively to high school students. This is generally not the case with dual enrollment. Dually enrolled students take classes intended for college students rather than for high-achieving high school students. Because of this, the classes dually enrolled students may take can vary widely in terms of content and rigor. AP and IB programs are based on national and international standards, so a student in Arizona will have a similar experience to that of a student in Maine. Dual enrollment offers a different experience that’s influenced by a particular college’s environment as well as its coursework and instructors.

AP and IB students must also fulfill additional requirements beyond coursework. In order to gain college credit, AP students must pass a hefty standardized exam for each course they take. IB students generally need to complete major thesis projects at the end of their programs. Dual enrollment students only need to take and pass their courses to receive credit. Like high school classes, this usually involves maintaining good attendance, completing assignments and taking a few tests.

Career and Technical Education (CTE) is another form of dual or concurrent enrollment that students may want to explore. In these programs, students learn technical and career-based skills while earning college credit.

When searching for dual enrollment programs, students may encounter concurrent enrollment programs. The terms are often conflated, but dual enrollment and concurrent enrollment are not the same. “Concurrent enrollment is a type of dual enrollment where the course is taken at the high school,” says McAnaney. “The students in the class are high school classmates, and the teacher is a high school teacher that has been approved by the college to teach the course.” These programs can be excellent for students with limited transportation who still want to explore college-level courses, but it’s important to note that some colleges are skeptical of the quality of concurrent-enrollment programs and may not accept credits earned this way.

State-By-State Dual Enrollment Policies

Dual enrollment policies vary by state, so students and their families should check the details of their states’ policies with the Education Commission of the States to learn how dual enrollment programs will work for them. State policies described by ECS include general program information, program accessibility, financial information, quality standards and information on the transferability of credits to local institutions. These policies generally do not include information on ECHS programs.

Student should learn whether there is a statewide dual enrollment policy or if individual programs within a state have their own policies. Only three states — Alaska, New Hampshire and New York — do not have statewide policies in place. Program basics should explain where courses are provided; whether students receive high school credit, college credit or both; whether remedial courses are available; whether CTE is available through dual enrollment; and other unique program characteristics, such as the ability to earn postsecondary diplomas.

In this section, students discover basic eligibility requirements and how many credits they are allowed to earn through dual enrollment. Students also can find out whether availability of dual enrollment options is required in their states and whether students must be notified of these opportunities, as well as whether programs are available at two- or four-year institutions and whether dual enrollment advising must be made available to students.

Students and families will primarily want to know who is responsible to pay for dual enrollment. Some states fund dual enrollment programs by providing money to participating high schools, colleges or both. States may partially cover the costs of dual enrollment courses, but sometimes students must pay full tuition price to take college classes in high school.

Students should learn how dual enrollment programs in their states measure course and instructor quality. Programs with instructor qualification standards will be described here. Policies may also include information on course quality and qualifications for online dual enrollment courses. In states where program quality information is limited or not standardized, students and their families may want to dig deeper into specific programs to learn how they ensure quality courses and course delivery to students.

Some dual enrollment programs have partnerships with area colleges to guarantee that credits earned via dual enrollment will transfer to those institutions. This gives students the security of knowing that credits earned in high school will not be wasted and can apply toward degrees earned at colleges in their area.

Find dual enrollment program details for your state:

Paying for Dual Enrollment

Whether students must pay for dual enrollment and how much depend on their states’ dual enrollment policies and the individual programs to which they apply. McAnaney notes that most students pay out of pocket, but that shouldn’t deter them. “This is often a wise investment,” she says. “A few hundred dollars for the course is much cheaper than students would pay to take the same course at college.” It’s fairly common for dual enrollment programs to offer discounted or subsidized tuition to high school students, and some high schools may cover the costs of courses and books. Many ECHS dual enrollment programs are tuition free.

If students find they have to pay for tuition or for books, supplies and other fees, they may want to look into various financial aid options. Scholarships and grants may be available to dual enrollment students. For instance, the Tennessee Student Assistance Corporation offers the lottery-funded Dual Enrollment Grant to Tennessee students looking to earn college credits in high school, and Cleveland State Community College offers additional dual enrollment scholarships along with the Tennessee Dual Enrollment Lottery Grant. These are excellent forms of financial aid because they don’t need to be paid back. High school and college counselors should be able to point students toward available grants and scholarships, or students can check for financial aid opportunities on their dual enrollment program websites.

There have been recent pushes to allow qualifying high school students to use Pell Grant funds to finance their dual enrollment. While this can be a good solution for some students, using Pell Grant money early comes with risks. Pell Grant funds cap after the equivalent of 12 full-time semesters of study. If students use some of their Pell Grant while in high school and their credits don’t transfer, they may not be left with enough Pell Grant money to get through their full degree programs. Students who plan to earn associate degrees or other postsecondary diplomas may find that the Pell Grant is a good option for them. Often when students with associate degrees enter four-year institutions, they are admitted as juniors. This means that, even after using some Pell Grant funds in high school, students will still be on track to finish bachelor’s degree programs before their funds cap. A student who knows he or she will continue college at the dual enrollment institution or at an institution with a credit transfer agreement in place may also be at lower risk of exhausting Pell Grant funds too early.

While student loans aren’t likely available to dual enrollment students, students and their families can look into private loans or get creative with crowdfunding through platforms like GoFundMe.

Q&A with a Former Dually Enrolled Student

Shaynee Copple Former Dual Enrollment Student View Bio

How did you find out about your dual enrollment program?

I found out about the dual enrollment program through word of mouth between parents. My mom found out about it from another parent who taught in the district.

Why did you decide to try it?

I wanted to go to TMCCHS because I felt like a child at my home high school. I understand now that the teachers have to deal with a wide variety of students. I felt I was in charge of my education as soon as I joined TMCCHS, and since then, I have learned so much about how to prioritize my time, what I have to do in class to succeed and what it takes to complete a task with requirements set by someone else.

What were some of the highlights of your experience?

My teachers made a lasting impression on me. They treated me as if I had a voice. They helped me develop my opinions and ideas as if I were another adult in the room. I had never felt that before, and I’m truly grateful for being able to have that opportunity.

What challenges did you face while in your dual enrollment program? What lessons did you learn?

When I was enrolled, I learned about all the academic writing needed to succeed in college. I didn’t know English properly until I met my English teacher, Kathleen O’Brien, who absolutely loved it. She never gave up on us, and I learned more from her about our common language than I had in the 10 years of schooling I’d had before.

In what ways did dual enrollment meet or not meet your expectations?

I did not expect it to be as accommodating as it was; being able to make my own schedule (for the most part) was incredible to me. I was happy to do whatever it took to just graduate, but I was pleasantly surprised to make connections with the instructors in a way that allowed me to be a better college student and employee.

What impact did dual enrollment have on your college experience?

With the help of dual enrollment, I’ve learned how to act in the professional world. Learning how to act and react in a professional manner (including emails) helped teach me to work around my emotions and toward communication and a common goal, which is more important than the tone someone conveys.

Would you recommend dual enrollment to other students? Is it good choice for everyone?

I definitely don’t think dual enrollment is for everyone. Everyone develops at a different pace. I was ready because the regular high school scene was not fulfilling. I found myself not challenged, angry at being treated as a child and indifferent about my grades. Once I chose to enroll, I felt my education was truly in my own hands, and I was the only one who determined my success. I merely had to find the support in the right places.

What advice do you have for high school students who are considering dual enrollment programs?

Be flexible and meet all expectations. There will be times where you can exceed expectations, and by all means, do it! Half of any effort is showing up and being present. Put phones away, and be present to learn, grow and understand. The other half is meeting the deadline. No one wants to work with someone who is dead weight or cannot get anything done on time. Be prompt, be punctual and be present!

More on Dual Enrollment

When it comes to learning about dual enrollment, high school and college counselors are excellent resources. However, tons of useful information can be found online, too. Students can check out these dual enrollment tools and resources to get started.

This organization provides comprehensive information and resources for students interested in learning more about CTE programs.

Dual enrollment students will develop an early appreciation for saving money on college textbooks. Bigwords combs booksellers from around the internet to find students the lowest available price.

This PDF created by Piedmont Technical College in South Carolina provides some quick and useful tips to help dual enrollment students do well in their college courses. These tips don’t just apply to Piedmont students!

Zacks Investment research offers this information about how students’ dual enrollment courses may affect their parents’ taxes.

Students can find a range of information and stories about Early College High School and other dual enrollment programs.

This site provides comprehensive information, data and resources pertaining to concurrent enrollment programs.

This is the U.S. Department of Education’s hub for information on CTE. Students can learn about CTE programs, grant opportunities and more.

This blog post on the New America website provides additional details on using Pell Grant money to pay for dual enrollment.

This article from the Alliance for Excellent Education provides facts and statistics about the prevalence, format and merits of dual enrollment and ECHS programs.