College is the typical next step after finishing high school. Once students go off to college, they will experience more freedom but will also be faced with far heftier courseloads and more complicated concepts to learn and apply. This tough transition lends to the 37% college dropout rate in four-year colleges and 67% dropout rate in two-year institutions (National Center for Education Statistics, 2021). As such, many students are unable to reap the benefits that the influence of college education has to offer. This is where preparing for college is of utmost importance.
Concurrent enrollment is among the methods that can smoothen the transition from high school to higher education as it lets students experience a slice of college while still finishing secondary education. Besides their high school curriculum, learners also take on a selection of classes provided by postsecondary institutions. Serving as a headstart, the experience acquaints learners with the rigors of college and how courses are administered.
To help you gain a more concrete idea of how this works, this guide will discuss what concurrent enrollment is. It also navigates the requirements and challenges that are commonly encountered with the arrangement. Moreover, the discussion below will elaborate on why concurrent enrollment is worth pursuing, to begin with.
Concurrent enrollment is a program that allows high school students to be enrolled in a postsecondary institution to take college classes. These courses bear college and high school credits, potentially shortening the time spent by a student in college. Depending on the arrangement, the concurrent classes may be taught by college professors or college-approved high school teachers to ensure that the subject matter is on the postsecondary level (NACEP, n.d.). Moreover, the program is typically offered to high school juniors and seniors.
The typical coursework in this program includes English, Science, Mathematics, Social Studies, and Humanities (Flynn, 2021), but the range of classes offered tends to vary per school district. Dual enrollments often last for one college semester as high school students take classes alongside college learners.
According to the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers (AACRAO), 63% of postsecondary institutions believe that finishing concurrent enrollment programs improves the likelihood of students being admitted to college (Loveland, n.d.). While more recent figures on the success rate of concurrent enrollment programs on college admission are not available, the arrangement does offer a more comprehensive experience than what college entrance exam review centers provide.
As such, the latest concurrent enrollment statistics reveal that 78% of high schools in the United States offer at least one dual enrollment program (Gagnon, Liu, & Cherasaro, 2021). And when the search is confined to the REL Central states, namely Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Wyoming, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Nebraska, that figure jumps to 85%.
Some states have also reported increases in participation in these programs. In Colorado, the share of dual enrollment participants has leaped from 11% in A.Y. 2012-2013 to 19.2% in A.Y. 2019-2020 (Colorado Department of Higher Education, 2021). Meanwhile, there are states that reported a decrease, as the 37% drop in Boise among other locales, but it is likely due to COVID-19 (Villareal, 2021) and not the quality of the programs.
Source: Colorado Department of Higher Education, 2021
Dual enrollment programs primarily differ in the location in which instruction takes place. In a study by The Aspen Institute (2020), it was discovered that 85% of college classes in dual enrollment programs took place in a high school campus, more than those administered on a college campus (17%) and online (8%).
Below are some of the types of dual enrollment arrangements:
Source: The Aspen Institute, 2020
Is there a difference between concurrent enrollment vs dual enrollment? Not really. The terms are often used interchangeably as they allude to the same process. However, if one is to take the technical route, concurrent enrollment is defined as a mode of dual enrollment that pertains to taking college classes, administered in a secondary environment, simultaneously with high school classes (NACEP, n.d.).
Dual enrollment programs can sometimes be confused with similar programs that also offer credit-bearing courses to high school learners—the Advanced Placement (AP) program and the double credit program. The three tend to differ in structure and/or duration. An AP covers an entire curriculum created by the College Board while both the dual enrollment and dual credit programs conduct classes that are offered by partner colleges and usually last for one semester. The programs can be extended; for some institutions, the extension is enough for a high school student to earn an associate degree (Utah Valley University, n.d.).
Furthermore, AP and dual enrollment programs are taken by high school students looking to gain college credits while dual credit participants aim to obtain high school and college credits (Hays CISD, n.d.).
Similar to academic scholarships, concurrent enrollment requirements revolve around grade point averages and standardized test scores to sieve eligible aspirants from a crowd of applicants. The grade requirements vary per institution and district, but it is safe to assume that concurrent enrollment programs require high marks. This ensures that the learners who will qualify have the capacity to absorb college-level courses.
The minimum grade requirements posted by the Oklahoma State System of Higher Education stand as a reliable basis for the marks a student has to achieve to be eligible. Other states have different ones but those are more or less in the same range as what Oklahoma schools adhere to. Some districts and high schools shoulder the costs or at least offer tuition waivers (Okcollegestart.org, 2021) for high school juniors and seniors who manage to enter a concurrent enrollment program.
GPA: 3.0 (unweighted), top 33.3%
National ACT: 24
Residual ACT: 24
GPA: 3.0 (unweighted), top 50%
National ACT: 20
Residual ACT: 20
GPA: 3.0 (unweighted)
National ACT: 19
Residual ACT: 19
Private institutions have distinct terms and requirements, often posted on their websites. Interested parties are advised to check the information to know what grades they need to attain to qualify for concurrent enrollment. High school counselors can also help with admissions and in choosing the most suitable school for students.
Besides grade requirements for eligibility, colleges and universities may have requirements for certain courses. For instance, a student who scored well overall but had low marks in Science might not be allowed to take advanced classes at the postsecondary level. To be on the safe side, learners must achieve high standardized test scores across the board.
For subjects like Math, English, Science, and Reading, students must have earned a grade of at least 19 for each in the ACT or a score of 510 in the SAT to qualify (Okcollegestart.org, 2021). Colleges and universities are expected to furnish their own means of assessment like entrance exams to ascertain the abilities of applicants as well as determine the most appropriate coursework for each eligible aspirant.
Concurrent enrollment brings in a host of clear advantages that can affect the course of a student’s college life and beyond. From attending course-bearing classes to a better understanding of the college experience, high school students will gain knowledge on how to smoothly transition from high school to higher education. This is only the tip of the iceberg regarding concurrent enrollment’s full range of benefits.
One of the foremost advantages of concurrent enrollments is that the classes bear college credits. For every subject completed, a course is removed from a student’s college curriculum, so much so that learners can potentially earn an associate degree while in high school. The program speeds up the time it takes to earn a diploma while vastly expanding a learner’s knowledge base, including the subjects taken up in high school.
As such, significant growth in the number of students participating in concurrent enrollments was seen in California. The share of students enrolled in dual enrollment programs increased from 11.3% in A.Y. 2015-2016 to 18.2% in A.Y. 2018-2019 (UC Davis Wheelhouse Institute, 2021).
Not all colleges and universities, however, accept credits from concurrent enrollments so students should explore their options well. High school dual enrollment counselors can help them in this regard since they know which institutions take in credits.
Source: UC Davis Wheelhouse Institute, 2021
Fewer college courses equate to lower costs as concurrent enrollment students are not required to take credited classes in college. So, how much exactly does one save? With dual enrollment, a class costs $0-$400 (Dalton, 2020) while the average cost per credit hour in a four-year college is $636 (Hanson, 2021). A class is usually worth three credit hours, which brings the total to $1,908. Therefore, the amount of savings for one class in a four-year college ranges from $1,508 to $1,908. If a student takes Science, Math, English, and Reading classes, the amount of savings jumps to $6,032-$7,632.
Furthermore, learners eligible for concurrent enrollment may qualify for merit-based grants and scholarships given the high-grade requirements of such programs. Obtaining these further drives down the costs of higher education, making college more accessible to low-income students and families.
Besides earning college credits, concurrent enrollment students will get acquainted and accustomed to how lessons are taught in college. The deeper approach to the subject matter might surprise students at first but they can consult with professors, college classmates, and counselors for help in handling the increase in difficulty. This could result in an improvement in study habits, which students can also apply in high school to get even higher marks or leverage when pursuing a double degree.
Outside academics, students can befriend college classmates and learn the ropes from their habits and lifestyles. This leads to worthwhile connections being forged and the familiarization of college norms and practices outside the classroom, which are essential for any college freshman.
All these spark the interest of concurrent enrollment students to pursue a college degree. In fact, they are 23% more likely to enroll in college right after finishing high school than those who did not take part in dual enrollment (Villareal, 2021).
A study by Ellucian (2019) reveals that 51% of students are not confident in their career path when they enter college. In addition, an equal percentage of learners end up shifting majors. This is perfectly understandable, considering how tough it is to make a life-changing decision at a young age. The problem is shifting majors extends one’s stay in college, therefore, pushing up expenses. Concurrent enrollment can help in this regard.
As students get to explore the coursework offered by various degrees, they will have first-hand experience on which courses suit their preferences, en route to making a decision, or at least shortlisting their options. If a student has the time and headspace to take on a full college load, they can even pick up an associate degree while still in high school, but that would be particularly difficult.
Despite the numerous benefits of concurrent enrollment, it also has its share of challenges. At the end of the day, high school students have yet to adjust to the more rigorous study habits that college courses demand. And they have to fit their college classes into an already packed high school schedule.
The academic demands of college might overwhelm high school students, which, in turn, could adversely affect their performance in both high school and the college classes they are taking. From the onset, 61% of teens admit to feeling a lot of pressure while 21% experience some pressure to get good grades (Horowitz & Graf, 2019), and adding a slew of complex college-level courses to their plate will not do their mental health too many favors. Some students will have to effectively expand their headspace and manage their time well if they are to cope with the compounded school requirements.
Moreover, the task of completing deliverables like assignments and projects can be punishing for students when the classes from the two schools demand these concurrently. They have to sacrifice a lot of time for other endeavors, particularly rest and leisure, should they wish to maintain high grades. Communicating with teachers, professors, and counselors can help lighten the load to a manageable level.
Source: Pew Research Center, 2019
Besides the academic demands, students will have to deal with conflicting schedules, especially those who have to travel to another campus for concurrent enrollment classes. Simultaneous deadlines for college applications could have learners scrambling to a variety of locations just to submit assignments or participate in some projects, and sometimes meeting all those demands is impossible. After all, high school curricula come with rigid schedules and the addition of college classes makes matters exponentially more challenging. The travel time between campuses can also act as a huge impediment.
Again, communicating with college professors and the counselor can help in this regard. Professors already know who among the students are part of the concurrent enrollment program, so they can make reasonable adjustments to schoolwork and homework if the situation calls for them to do so.
Not all post-secondary institutions recognize the credits from concurrent enrollment programs, Meanwhile, those that do so only accept them for certain courses. This is where the program’s counselors come in. They can guide high school students on which colleges and universities will accept the program’s credits in full. Furthermore, these professionals can aid learners with admission and academic requirements.
Even though public institutions are more likely to recognize concurrent enrollment credits than private ones, it is advisable for students to do research on the postsecondary institutions they wish to enroll in to ascertain the most viable options.
Students who are active in or intend to join extracurricular clubs in school would likely take a more passive role if they participate in concurrent enrollment. The college workload, along with the travel time to a different campus, will occupy the space often relegated for extracurricular programs and other school activities. Dual enrollment will also take time away from high school friends as participants will have to simultaneously deal with assignments, schoolwork, and exams for both high school and college. To properly cope with stress, students need to establish new routines and manage their time well. They can ask for tips from counselors and their high school and college classmates.
Besides the given challenges, concurrent enrollment programs have more room for improvement. In the study “Determinants of Dual Enrollment Access: A National Examination of Institutional Context and State Policies” by Spencer and Maldonado (2021), it was revealed that “[Dual enrollment] Programs should consider ways to provide more services to support students. At the school level, administrators may need to improve outreach to parents—particularly those students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. Schools could also ensure that their [dual enrollment] partnerships with local colleges feature orientation programs and campus visits for students and their families, which are suggested to improve the process of early college-going.”
Many institutions offer different types of concurrent enrollment programs across the United States, and searching for these is sometimes as easy as making an inquiry in school. After all, 88.98% of high schools in the country offer dual enrollment programs (NACEP, n.d.). The concurrent enrollment counselor can supply all the necessary information regarding applications, admissions, and the types of programs offered by college and university partners.
Students can also conduct their own research on the most ideal concurrent enrollment programs within their communities. Postsecondary institutions typically post their dual enrollment programs, policies, and credits on their website. As a supplemental reference, the Education Commission of the States released a list of dual and concurrent enrollment policies across 50 states in 2019.
If the high school a student is enrolled in does not offer dual enrollment programs, a learner can enter similar programs with college-bearing credits like Advanced Placement or dual credit. Taking the AP test costs $96 (College Board, 2021). Another option is the College Level Examination Program, which also affords college credits and can be taken during the summer at a local college or over the internet.
Based on the merits that define what is concurrent enrollment, entering a program is certainly worth any student’s while. Not only does it bear courses with college credit, concurrent enrollment vastly expands a student’s knowledge base as well. It prepares high school students for the lifestyle, subject depth, and study habits that higher education entails.
Moreover, concurrent enrollment significantly decreases college expenses since it shortens curricula. Depending on a program’s terms and credit coverage, students can potentially save thousands of dollars in college. They can also graduate faster than those who did not participate in a dual enrollment program. Students just need to learn how to manage their time and seek the advice of the program counselor to make the experience feel more rewarding than stressful.
Should you wish to know more about handy programs and the latest developments in colleges and universities, you can browse through our feature on the top trends in higher education. Like concurrent enrollment, the information it contains can help you become better prepared for college.