Making Dual Enrollment Work for Rural Students

Brad Mitchell – September 2015

There is compelling evidence that dual enrollment programs have a high return on investment. Students enrolled in these programs are more likely than their peers to graduate from high school, to enter college, and to graduate on time. When connected to college and career pathways that are relevant for students and their communities, dual enrollment can also help drive economic development.

In Making Dual Enrollment Work for Rural Students, Brad Mitchell of Battelle for Kids and the Rural Opportunities Consortium of Idaho acknowledges that a comprehensive approach to dual enrollment can be difficult for rural states, which may lack the resources necessary to implement these programs, and offers a set of strategies for improving these programs.  Mitchell begins by addressing two central questions:

  • What is the state of dual enrollment nationally, in rural settings, and in Idaho?
  • What can states do to make dual enrollment work for rural students, their families, and local communities?

Mitchell finds that participation in dual enrollment programs has grown in recent years. This is in part because of state interest in dual enrollment: as of 2015, 47 states and the District of Columbia have dual enrollment programs on the books. Rural areas have seen the largest increase, with 12 percent growth in dual enrollment participation between 2003 and 2011.

Idaho requires all high schools to provide advanced opportunities, though student participation is voluntary. State-run programs allow students to take courses online or at their high school and offer discounted tuition rates that can translate to savings of up to $18,000 at state colleges or universities.

Unfortunately, dual enrollment programs often face challenges related to funding, logistics, and talent, which can make it difficult to expand access or to offer dual enrollment to high-need students. These challenges are exacerbated in rural areas.

In order to address these broad challenges, Mitchell believes that communities should look to three strategies that can help lead to the development of practical solutions:

  • Incorporate dual enrollment programs into local workforce and economic development strategies
  • Reconceive dual enrollment as a tool that can help students gain the competencies, credits, and credentials that they need for post-secondary success, whether in college or a career
  • Connect dual enrollment courses to blended learning options and the development of social and emotional learning skills that are essential for employers in order to help give students a path out of poverty

These strategies imply some specific steps for dual enrollment in Idaho. Mitchell recommends that dual enrollment programs in Idaho:

  • Place a greater focus on student motivation and success skills.
  • Encourage K-12, higher education, businesses, and civic leaders to collaborate on projects that advance educational and economic growth by integrating college and career pathways with dual enrollment.
  • Create shareable, job-focused dual enrollment courses relevant to Idaho’s needs.