Back in 2014, Ohio lawmakers overhauled the state’s dual-enrollment program that gives students opportunities to take advanced courses through two- or four-year colleges. Public, private, and homeschool students in grades 7–12 can participate in the program, now known as(CCP). The courses may be delivered on-campus, online, or at a high school (taught either by college faculty or qualified teachers). Because students earn both high school and college credit for passing these courses, the program offers a head start in earning post-secondary credentials.
The revamped dual-enrollment program has become an increasingly popular option with students. In CCP’s inaugural year (2015–16), just shy of 55,000 students took at least one dual-enrollment course. In just State leaders have been largely supportive of CCP, touting its potential to make college more affordable by reducing the time needed to earn degrees. A couple months ago, Lieutenant Governor Jon Husted highlighted CCP in an that focused on state initiatives to upskill the workforce., that number has risen to almost 77,000 students. The most recent state data show that 25 percent of the class of 2019 received at least three credits through dual enrollment.
Dual enrollment is a valuable option for students and it supports Ohio’s efforts to ensure young people are ready for college and great careers. Yet at the same time, policymakers continue to wrestle with a few important policy details, three of which are reflected in the House-passed version of this year’s state budget bill ().
Eligibility standards: The original CCP legislation did not include specific eligibility guidelines. Any student could participate, regardless of their academic readiness, so long as a college or university admitted them. That changed in 2017 when the legislature added athat now requires students to either (1) achieve a remediation-free score on a or (2) come within one standard error (SE) of it plus have a 3.0 GPA or letter of recommendation.
Seemingly uncomfortable with these higher standards, lawmakers have proposed via HB 110 to give the chancellor of higher education authority to determine eligibility criteria. Should this pass the Senate, the question will then focus on what happens to the eligibility bar. No one knows for sure which way it’ll go, but in recent testimony current chancellor Randy Gardner suggested an easing of standards to broaden access to CCP,“We still have standards, standards are important, but we want to provide as much access as possible to allow as many students as possible to take advantage of this [CCP].”
If indeed this is the direction the state goes, it opens some new questions. While participation numbers might rise, will less prepared students excel in these courses? What types of supports might they need? Will colleges need to water down CCP courses or slow their pace? (Remember, there are already concerns aboutin dual enrollment.) In the end, there may be benefits to opening CCP to students who aren’t truly college ready. But we should also recognize the challenges that may lie ahead to ensure that all participants benefit from the option.
Approved courses: Since its inception, CCP rules have prohibited students from taking remedial or religious courses. Nevertheless, were almost immediately raised about some of the courses that students could take (think Zumba or Pilates). Wisely, policymakers clamped down and instituted some governing approved courses. Despite that move, controversy erupted earlier this year regarding a that is alleged to have included graphic material. In response, legislators included provisions in HB 110 addressing this concern by requiring, among a few other things, students and parents to sign a permission slip, and colleges and state agencies to include disclaimers that course material may include “mature subject matter.” While the bill doesn’t include new course prohibitions, this episode illustrates the possibility of additional scrutiny about the types of courses that middle and high school students take. Will legislators seek more aggressive actions the next time controversy arises over course content? Will questionable courses dampen political support for the program? All things to keep an eye on.
Program effectiveness: Although CCP is still relatively new, there have been questions about the cost-effectiveness of the program. Back in 2018, lawmakers provisions that required state education agencies to look into this issue, and they have called for another report in HB 110. It’s hard to know what’s driving the most recent request. Legislators may simply want updated information. Or perhaps they didn’t find all the answers they were looking for in the prior , which was a somewhat superficial review yet concluded that the program “has been a transformative addition to the high school experience and a game-changer for Ohio students.”
It’s definitely appropriate to continue asking questions about whether CCP—or any government program—is fully meeting its goals. While it may have been too early for state agencies to do a rigorous evaluation of CCP for the previous study, the time is ripe for a more comprehensive analysis of program effectiveness. Does CCP boost participants’ knowledge and skills relative to similar students who do not participate? How does it compare to the Advanced Placement or International Bachelorette programs? Are all types of delivery models equally effective (e.g., on campus versus high school versus online)? How many students earn enough credit through CCP to skip a semester or two of college, where the real savings happen? A rigorous study that examines questions such as these—whether undertaken by state agencies or independent researchers—would help inform policymakers as they continue to work to strengthen pathways to college and career.
* * *
Dual enrollment holds tremendous potential to challenge students academically, to allow young people to take courses that aren’t offered by local schools, and to give students an inside track to college degrees. In terms of program numbers, CCP has gotten off to a great start. But to maximize the potential of this option, state leaders will need to continue steering the program in the right direction.