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Thursday, November 02, 2017

Avoiding the Dangers of Dual Enrollment: Fast-Track to a Degree or Disaster?

In some institutions it’s called “concurrent enrollment.” In others, it’s “dual.” In both cases, the goal is the same: take courses that count toward both high school graduation and a college degree (usually a two-year associate’s degree.) Under ideal circumstances, it's a "win" for everyone -- students get a head start toward their degrees, parents save money and time, professors get to work with motivated students, colleges boost enrollment, and high schools can offer courses they could not ordinarily afford. But, like every utopian scenario, there's a dark side here. Promising honor students -- sophomores, perhaps even freshmen in high school, run the risk of developing a college transcript that is pock-marked by scholarship-killing C's and D's. If you're considering getting involved in dual-enrollment on any level, please take a moment to familiarize yourself with the pro's, con's, and strategies for success for dual enrollment courses.

What is “dual enrollment”?
In the past, students could get a head start on college credit by taking Advanced Placement courses (AP) and by taking credit by exam tests (CLEP, etc.). But, with high school budget crises, being able to offer the courses and the prep courses became too onerous. So, many colleges and universities have decided to offer “dual enrollment” courses, which are offered to high school students, who can take them online.

What are the main benefits of “dual enrollment”?
The great benefit of dual enrollment is that after taking the courses, the students will graduate with a two-year associate’s degree as well as their high school diploma. Plus, they will have completed their general education requirements.

How old is the average student?
I’ve been surprised to find that students in the dual enrollment courses are as young as 15. They are bright and eager, but I often wonder if their parents realize how high the stakes are if they are not able to retake courses and replace the grades in their transcripts.

College Courses: Until now, the courses have focused on the adult learner
Also, the courses that are developed for universities are often developed with adult learners in mind. In doing so, they utilized Malcolm Knowles’s notions of androgogy (as opposed to pedagogy), and rely a great deal upon scaffolding and building on experience and prior knowledge. Not many 15 year olds have the life experience and prior knowledge of an adult who is returning to school. And yet, many community colleges have as their primary mission to reach the adult students who are returning to school many years after high school. The result is that the instructional materials, instructional strategy, and assessment strategies may be out of sync. 

What is the student expected to do?
The student is expected to be prepared to take online courses offered by the college provider. They have been developed in accordance with best practices and accreditation requirements.  

Is the young high school student REALLY ready for dual enrollment courses originally designed for returning-to-school adults?
The short answer is “hardly ever.” The average high school student will often have a steep learning curve as well as serious time management problems, not to mention feelings of frustration with a format that is very unlike that of high school.

What is the situation and how can a dual enrollment student succeed?
I recommend that the student work with a qualified coach and mentor, ideally one with a master’s or Ph.D. with experience in both online programs and working with adults, at-risk, and high school students.

A Personal Perspective
I have worked with dual-enrollment students over the last two years at two different institutions. I have come to the conclusion that a significant percentage will fail under ordinary circumstances.
And, if they do not fail, they will fall far short of their actual potential, primarily because of
a) technical difficulties;
b) communication issues;
c) failure to self-regulate;
d) frustration;
e) poor understanding of the way to prepare yourself for today’s online courses;
and, above all,
f) the need for a guide and/or mentor who will coach them through it.
In conclusion, here are a few pointers for dual enrollment students and the instructors who work with them:

1. Remember how students can get off to a bad start: They often check in late, and do not review the entire course to familiarize themselves. They do not make a calendar for themselves, or create a checklist of requirements.

2.  Avoid misunderstanding  the role of the discussion board: Students often do not realize that the purpose of the discussion board is interaction, and they do not write substantive responses, nor do they read the posts of other students.

3.  Avoid procedural errors – back up and building blocks: Students often write their answers directly into the empty answer box in the learning management system, rather than writing it into a Word document, which can then be copied and pasted into the answer block.

4.  Remember to communicate with your professor in more than one way.

5.  Plan. Don’t miss deadlines. Remember that some professors will lock down the discussions and dropboxes.

6.  Keep in mind that your fellow students can help you. Peers mean help, support, and a learning community.

7.  Avoid reading, re-reading, and still not understanding – Develop a good note-taking approach.

8.  Practice for great test resuls – Develop test-taking strategies

9.  Focus on good writing skills – Remember that neglecting the small things will add up to big problems

10.  Don't forget to read the texts – Learn how to read them and not get lost.

11.  Employ active reading, probing and outlining – Develop frameworks for your brain.

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