Bringing College to High School
By Amal Amanda Issa, CSTA 2-Year College Director
One day during our weekly Professional Development, we were discussing how to prepare students for college. When looking at students’ post high school college outcomes, we wanted to figure out what more we needed to do to make the transition to college more seamless and supportive to ultimately lead to long term college success. It was a difficult and overwhelming conversation for a room full of exhausted and fiercely driven educators who were in a constant state of improving conditions for students. I am grateful for the teacher who questioned “why are we so focused on making students college ready, when maybe it’s the colleges that need to be student ready?” What a way to turn a conversation around to validate the work of our colleagues and the uniqueness of our students all in the effort towards students’ success.
Shortly after that conversation, an opportunity to design a college course for my high school students, while teaching students to prepare for college, presented itself. Due to a fortunate series of events and an unexpected alignment of requirements, I was able to bring college courses to the high school classroom. This provided the ability to design a college course around the students while maintaining the expectations of college level coursework with the structured supports that exist within a high school. Basically, my high school students would show up in their high school classroom to attend my college course along with other college students. This is known by many names, but commonly referred to as dual enrollment.
Dual enrollment is the opportunity to take college courses while in high school. Students have the ability to receive both high school and college credits. Unlike traditional AP coursework that requires a specific score on a standardized test for the possibility that it will be counted towards college credit, credit earned by dual enrollment courses guarantee students the college credits. Not only do students get a head start in college, but research also shows that students who participate in early college coursework are also more likely to graduate high school. In California, students can take college courses for little to no cost while they are in high school. For students and families in the know, this access is a great method to enrich a student’s learning, complete required coursework, or try something new. Providing students access to college allows them the opportunity to explore the prospect of college, especially for those who may not be “on track” for college. Along with the benefit of earning college credits, students who take early college courses are more likely to enroll in college and more likely to complete college than their non-participating peers.
My experience teaching dual enrollment was an ambitious blend of college, high school, work experience, and career exploration. In one year, 20 - 35 students (depending on the year) would complete 10 units of college credit towards a medical assisting certificate. The development of this program aimed to combine the following critical components:
- Support a college bound culture by literally assisting students with college enrollment
- Expose students to college level content, rigor and course work
- Align dual enrollment to the health focused pathway of the high school
- Evaluate career ambitions and educational goals
- Provide students the option of entering the workforce and/or pursuing their post secondary aspirations
Offering dual enrollment changed the conversation with students. Instead of college being something to plan for in the future, it was a reality of the students in that very moment.
A significant change in the last few years is that access to college has been supported by legislative laws that aim to increase it for students who have had limited access. When designed in support of the student, dual enrollment can unlock substantial benefits. With the support of AB 288 and the following AB 30, access to dual enrollment is expanding, with heightened attention to students who have been historically disadvantaged towards college. Schools are increasing efforts to encourage students who are not necessarily on the college track to try out their first college course. Imagine the change of perspective a student can have when they realize that their teachers - their school - believe that they have what it takes to go to college. Yes, dual enrollment can speed up the timeline towards degree attainment while providing financial incentives, but its biggest potential impact is on a student’s confidence in their own abilities.
Why might this information be relevant to your work? Our institutions are highly intertwined and dependent on one another, yet our capacity to align programs and communicate is still developing. However, it is worthwhile to note that throughout the state, many partnerships are intent on merging their work and improving intersegmental collaboration. Dual enrollment may currently exist at your site and there is a chance that not all students who are interested know about it. As dual enrollment expands across the state, it is critical we know how to advise students towards it and prepare schools to provide the support needed. If you are interested in exploring dual enrollment with your staff, check out The Dual Enrollment Game, which was designed as a teaching tool to support conversations around dual enrollment.
Amal Amanda Issa is a Director with the Career Ladders Project and adjunct faculty with Merritt College. She’s designed professional development to support community college faculty in designing and facilitation of instruction in dual enrollment. She has taught secondary physical and biological sciences as well as dual enrollment medical assisting courses. Amanda is CSTA’s 2-year college director. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.