Dual enrollment, also known as concurrent enrollment, isn’t new to Montana, but like many other states, there is renewed interest and investment at the state level. Montana began the Montana Dual Enrollment Incentive Pilot Program during the fall of 2014 to run for two years through spring 2016. The intent is to encourage high school instructors to take on dual enrollment courses and to offer more of those courses to students.
Students who are 16 or in their junior year of high school may take these courses and receive college credits and high school credits simultaneously. Some data has shown a positive relationship between concurrent enrollment and eventual enrollment, persistence, and achievement in college after high school. Since Montana recently adopted performance-based funding for higher education, there is more incentive than ever for colleges to recruit, enroll, and retain students, and two-year colleges, especially, are eager to introduce students to their schools through dual-enrollment opportunities.
Dual enrollment offers several advantages to students: reduced tuition expenses (50%); completion of courses during high school reduces time and course requirements during college; shortened pathway reduces overall cost of higher ed; challenge and engagement opportunities for high-achieving students. Beginning with fall semester of 2014, the state of Montana offers incentives to high school teachers who teach these courses: a credit-for-credit coupon that can be used at any college in the Montana University System, and these coupons are transferable to anyone. Teachers must hold at least 9 graduate credits in the discipline they will teach, but there is a temporary two-year waiver of that requirement if teachers are actively pursuing those credentials.
Most people favor dual-enrollment in theory, but there are potential problems and pitfalls, and many educators are skeptical of appropriate oversight. The question of rigor is a concern, especially for college instructors who regularly encounter unprepared or under-prepared high school graduates. The concern is that if some students aren’t prepared for first-year coursework, how can we be sure those students in dual-enrolled courses are adequately prepared? Some educators and parents worry that the experience is too different; taking a course on a college campus with other adult students is a different experience from taking the same course in the high school setting with high school classmates. Some argue that one semester of engagement and practice within a discipline is not the same as two or more semesters consecutively. Many writing teachers believe that it’s often practice and repetition that improves students’ writing, not cognitive understanding of a concept. Finally, the credit-for-credit incentive concerns some people.
The number of students who choose dual-enrollment and courses offered will continue to grow; such opportunities offer benefits for motivated and advanced students. Colleges and universities may benefit, too, through recruitment and retention. Time will tell how this will impact students’ achievement and if this incentive will help Montana meet Governor Bullock’s goal of 60 percent of Montanans holding a college degree or career certificate in the next decade.