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Fast track: More high schoolers take community college courses

The Michael J. Grant Campus of Suffolk County

The Michael J. Grant Campus of Suffolk County Community College in Brentwood, on Thursday, July 30, 2015. Credit: Steve Pfost

Many more high school students are fast-tracking their studies by simultaneously taking community college courses as a way to save time and money on higher education, a new Columbia University Teachers College report shows.

The phenomenon of dual enrollment has expanded nationwide and in New York, where school districts are partnering with community colleges to provide students access to the higher-level courses, according to the report released Wednesday.

For example, 71 percent of New York students who were dually enrolled and went on to four-year colleges after high school completed their degree within five years. Nationally, that figure was 64 percent.

“Dual enrollment has exploded in recent years, with at least 1.4 million students taking college courses through two- or four-year colleges,” said Davis Jenkins, a senior research scholar at the Community College Research Center, part of Teachers College. “Studies suggest that taking college courses in high school can increase the chances that both advantaged and disadvantaged students go to college and earn a degree.”

The report provides the first comprehensive look at dual enrollment and student outcomes by state, researchers said, and raises important questions about gaps between income groups and why some states do better than others in college completion.

Jenkins, with co-authors John Fink and Takeshi Yanagiura, looked at more than 200,000 high school students in the United States, ages 17 and younger, who took a community-college class in fall 2010 and tracked them for six years, through the summer of 2016.

Nationally, about one-fourth of high school dual-enrollment students take classes at a four-year college; they were not included in the study.

Community colleges, particularly those with dwindling enrollment, are taking note of the trend as a recruitment tool.

Adult students, defined as 25 and older, sought out community college programs after the Great Recession brought job losses in several sectors of the economy. Now that companies are hiring again, those adult students are leaving an enrollment hole at many community colleges, experts have said.

Suffolk County Community College officials, wanting to expand their reach into local school districts, launched a program to offer courses to high school juniors and seniors. It started with eight students in the 2006-07 academic year.

Last year, 2016-17, the program had about 4,370 high school students taking SCCC courses at a cost of $58 per credit; most courses are three or four credits. SCCC had a total enrollment of 22,858 for the current fall semester.

“Generally, students see the opportunity — whether it is to get a jump-start on their college education or save money. It seems like the jump-start is the most popular because students want to take advanced courses when they get to college,” said Deborah Wolfson, SCCC’s assistant dean for academic affairs, who is the primary liaison with the high schools.

She said the program allows students to fulfill freshman prerequisites and enhance their college application — much like Advanced Placement courses that feature college-level curricula and exams. The most popular courses are pre-calculus, calculus, foreign languages and some sciences, Wolfson said.

SCCC partners with 47 high schools in Suffolk County, including in the Brentwood, Greenport, Hampton Bays, Longwood, Middle Country, Sachem and William Floyd districts. Teachers in those schools are credentialed to teach the community college courses.

SCCC officials estimate about 29 percent of students who take their courses in high school go on to enroll after their high school graduation as either part-time or full-time students. Some return for summer courses after their freshman year away at other colleges.

Each year, nearly 600 students in the Middle Country school district take SCCC courses. There are a total of 3,100 students in the district’s two high schools.

“Some students enter with a full year of college under their belt. That could really encourage that student to knock off the rest of college if they already have that done,” said Mark Palios, the district’s coordinator of guidance.

Palios said the district’s high schools have 26 SCCC courses. Eighty-nine percent of Middle Country graduates go on to higher education; of those, 42 percent go on to SCCC.

Among the study’s other findings is that dual enrollment appears to be particularly beneficial for students from underserved groups, even as the college completion rates varied based on income. Researchers recommended more academic advising and monitoring of low-income students.

Nassau Community College currently has 14 high school students enrolled in its classes. Officials there said they are looking into beginning a partnership program with high schools.

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