Pros and Cons of Dual Enrollment
My third child just barely graduated from a charter high school a friend and I started a couple of years ago for homeschoolers, so that homeschoolers could take advantage of dual enrollment. He only attended university classes Tuesdays and Thursdays, so he was still able to participate in our homeschool, self-study for AP tests and participate in a homeschool Speech & Debate league, orchestra and other amazing homeschool opportunities the rest of the week.
He graduated Magna Cum Laude with Academic distinction for earning his associates degree during high school. He also earned full-tuition scholarships to all of his first and second choice universities.
My oldest and my second child followed similar paths (I didn’t open the charter school until after my first child had graduated) and also earned associates degrees during high school using a combination of dual enrollment classes, AP tests, and online university classes.
What is dual enrollment?
Also called concurrent enrollment, dual credit, or a state-specific title like “Running Start” or “Early College Enrollment Program” (ECEP), it’s basically a way for students to earn the high school credit needed to graduate at the same time (concurrently) as they earn college credits.
For example, a dual enrollment writing class will be awarded one high school credit as well as 3 college credits.
I’ve seen some high schools differentiate between concurrent enrollment and dual enrollment like this: concurrent enrollment refers to a high school partnership with a university and dual enrollment refers to a high school partnership with a community college. Regardless, the credits awarded both end up on the students permanent college transcript.
But you’ll find that most people just use the terms interchangeably, without differentiating them like that. I’m guilty!
Most states have passed legislation allowing high school students (including homeschoolers) to participate in dual enrollment for free or for very reduced rates through public high schools. In my state, Utah, students pay only $5 per credit.
Sounds like a great deal, right?
I couldn’t see any negatives when we first began our journey, but after having completed that journey with my three oldest children, I can tell you with certainty that there are several. I still heartily recommend dual enrollment wherever possible, but it’s always best to know all of the pros and cons before jumping in with both feet.
So let’s talk about the pros and cons of dual enrollment.
Pros and Cons of Dual Enrollment:
Pros of Dual Enrollment:
There are multiple reasons for your teen to begin college courses now rather than waiting until after high school. Take a look at all of these amazing benefits:
- Dual enrollment maximizes efficiency. A young adult who earns an associates degree during high school can likely finish a bachelor’s degree by age 20. What an advantage! A graduate degree or career plans are so much more accessible to a young adult of that age than to an older young adult with more responsibility.
- Dual enrollment reduces the cost of a college degree. First, most states have legislated a greatly reduced cost per credit for high schoolers taking college classes. In Utah, we pay $5 per credit. The cost for the exact same credit at the University of Utah is $743, and it’s much more at any private university. Second, your teen will most likely be living at home, saving him thousands of dollars annually on room on board. The reduced rate is only for specific arrangements, though. If your teen wants to take classes of his choosing on the college campus, he will probably have to pay full price for the credits, though he will still save money by living at home.
- Dual enrollment raises expectations. I personally know adults who live in their parents basements, either believing themselves to be incapable of supporting themselves or else just refusing to. It’s critical that our children realize how much they are capable of and that they be encouraged to take on responsibility at a younger age. Both sets of my grandparents married and began families at age 16. I’m not saying that’s ideal, either. But young adults of that generation didn’t live in mommy’s basement playing video games into their 30’s.
- Dual enrollment helps your teen learn life-management skills. Dual enrollment can help your teen avoid a just-get-by mentality during high school. He will learn to schedule his time, manage deadlines, create schedules and develop the study skills necessary to succeed in college.
- Dual enrollment impresses college admissions: Homeschoolers who apply to universities with a homeschool transcript can provide context for all those A’s doled out by mom with dual enrollment courses (as well as AP tests). College credit proves your teen can do college level work.
- Dual enrollment can help your teen to pursue his interests. Students have the opportunity to immerse themselves in areas of academic interest beyond subjects typically available to high school students. If your teen has exhausted the resources available to him in your homeschool, university classes can help him to further explore his interests.
- Dual enrollment allows your teen to complete prerequisites. While earning college credit during high school, students can work on prerequisites that will be needed in order to apply to a degree program. Lower-level, prerequisite classes often fill to capacity before freshmen are allowed to register, creating bottlenecks that can be avoided by students who have already completed them.
- Dual enrollment gives you the opportunity to influence your teen. While exposure to differing worldviews at an appropriate age can be beneficial, it can also be confusing. Nobody loves your child more than you, and nobody can help him make sense of things like you can. It’s such a blessing to have your teens still living under your roof and eating dinner around your kitchen table to discuss opposing worldviews as he is initially exposed to them.
Cons of Dual Enrollment:
As amazing as all of the reasons above seem, there are situations in which college credit is not in your child’s best interest. The below are just potential negatives, not automatic negatives. Many of them can be alleviated with proper and sufficient planning. Make an appointment with an admissions counselor at your teen’s preferred university to discuss your specific situation and options.
- Dual enrollment class content may be beyond your control. It depends on where you’re getting your dual enrollment classes, but some of them can be rough. My oldest took a semester of dual enrollment classes at our local high school, and the professor showed a portion of a terrible, R-rated movie in his Film & Lit. class. My concerns were dismissed because I had signed a permission slip in order for my daughter to take the class. The professor felt that teens who take college classes must be sufficiently mature to deal with college-level topics. But that doesn’t mean you have to shove it down their throats. That was part of my motivation for opening a charter school where we hire our professors and they teach on our campus, thus giving parents (through the charter board) some control over content.
- Grades earned in dual enrollment classes are a part of your teen’s permanent college transcript. Even though your teen is just in high school, the grades he earns in his dual enrollment classes with stay with him through college. Make sure your teen understands that and is ready to be serious, buckle down and work hard, or he can ruin his GPA before he actually even gets to college.
- Dual enrollment classes are limited. One drawback to concurrent enrollment classes is that only a few are offered at a time, and they are typically 1st-year-level, general-ed-type classes. So if your teen is looking for something specific to round out his homeschool schedule, chances are slim that you’ll find it among dual enrollment course offerings.
- Dual enrollment credits aren’t universally accepted. When my oldest was first navigating this process, we learned that the university she wanted to attend would accept very few of the concurrent enrollment credits she had earned. However, they would accept a full associates degree straight across. So all she needed to do in order for all of her credits to transfer properly was to earn at least 60 credits and meet the requirements for an associates degree. Credits don’t transfer automatically, so make sure you understand the requirements at your top-choice university before beginning the work.
- Dual enrollment credits, even when accepted, may not apply to your teen’s program. All three of my oldest are struggling with this to different degrees. My oldest is in a marketing program that had many prerequisites that her General-Ed associates degree didn’t fill. So her associates degree only eliminated her first year at university, but it was still helpful. My second is studying Applied Physics and about half of the credit he earned was useful. My third, however, is studying Computer Engineering, which requires 120 specific credits, none of which are generals. So his associates degrees is useless for his university program. Regardless, all three of these young adults have found their associates degrees useful for their employment as they work their way through university. All are making more money than they otherwise would, just because they have those degrees. And further, theyh learned things from those classes, so they weren’t a complete waste.
- Teens are less mature than young adults. One of the biggest benefits of attending a university is the opportunities that arise from networking with professors, advisors, administrators and other students. But networking requires a certain level of maturity that may be lacking in high-school-aged teens.
- Dual enrollment classes can be time consuming. Teens with multiple college courses each semester will have less time to spend with friends, building relationships. Involvement in their communities, along with extracurricular activities, can lead to tremendous growth, but that also takes time. You have to find a balance where both objectives can be met.
- Dual enrollment credits can change your admission status. My brother-in-law lived in South America for a couple of years (after attending university for two years) and spoke fluent Spanish when he returned. He figured he might as well get a few credits out of it, so he took a CLEP test. He was happy to have earned the maximum amount of credits (9, I think) until his application was rejected for having too many credits. It depends on the university, but the one to which he was applying had a credit cap, because they were trying to discourage professional students.
- Dual enrollment credits can also change your scholarship and financial aid status. Many universities set aside a majority of scholarship funding specifically for incoming freshmen. There is a lesser amount available to transfer students. All three of my oldest children were considered incoming freshman, even with associates degrees, and they were still eligible for all freshman scholarships. That’s because the universities to which they applied cater to homeschooled students. But you’d do well to check your desired universities. Status on the FAFSA (for federal financial aid) will also change as more credits are earned.
Our experience with dual enrollment (our own pros and cons).
I want to finish telling you about my third son, because his situation could be very helpful to anyone considering dual enrollment. He has known for years that he wants to be a Computer Engineer, so he worked hard to find dual enrollment classes that would be applicable to his major.
He took a couple of advanced programming classes through dual enrollment. He also earned some certificates on the side, for which he did not earn credit. But his experience was typical in that the majority of the courses offered through dual enrollment were basic, general-ed-type courses.
When he arrived at his chosen university, he learned that his program required 120 credits. Basically, his entire 4-year-program was laid out, with no room for electives and zero general-ed classes.
We anticipated that, because we’d done some research at his specific university and had seen the requirements. His high ACT scores earned him admission to his program right off, so he wouldn’t need any generals, and he’d already completed the math prereq’s.
So, while his associates degree transferred completely, none of the classes he’d taken counted — not one! Not even the programming classes. It would have been disappointing except that we had expected it and chosen that route anyway, for several reasons.
First, we never practice writing in our homeschool. Math and science are my things and writing is not. I don’t love teaching it and I really hate correcting it. So I don’t bother. Thus, it was really helpful for my son to take the two required writing courses.
He would never have taken them during his university program, so he would have missed out on learning to write research papers and using MLA format, and he would probably have had a difficult time in the required technical writing class.
Second, it was really great for him to be accountable to someone besides me. You, as a fellow homeschooling mom, probably understand how difficult it is to set and enforce deadlines and how that can easily be a weakness in homeschools. And then there are the tests (I never administer tests in my homeschool) and the structure of the class and different teaching styles that all require some getting used to. He now has two years’ experience in college classes under his belt.
Third, he absolutely loved most of his classes. I would never have thought to purchase him a meteorology textbook or set him on that path — but he couldn’t get enough of it after being required to take the class. It was so nice to have him inspired by professors with different perspectives and strengths than my own.
Neither he nor I regret the high school years he spent in college classes earning dual enrollment credit. Now, if those credits had been detrimental to his future — if they had disqualified him from scholarships or prevented him from applying to his specific program or if they had hindered his admission — we would feel differently.
Dual enrollment is something you should consider individually, on a case-by-case basis. My children’s experiences can give you an additional perspective, but you’ll need to do your own research and create your own plan. Start by researching the universities your teen is considering and look into the specific degree programs he is considering.
I hope this list of pros and cons helps you determine whether dual enrollment is right for your teen!
Do you need more information about the pros and cons of dual enrollment? Check out these articles!
If you’ve had a child use dual enrollment, I’d love to hear the pros and cons you’ve encountered! Please share your experiences in the comments below.