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Dual enrollment drives community college enrollment up

According to data the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center released last week, Spring community college enrollment was up marginally, compared to Spring 2022 enrollment. According to the data, dual enrollment among high school students was primarily responsible for the gains.

The number of dual-enrolled high school students is so significant that is has decreased the median age of community college students for both men and women. While there’s nothing wrong with dual enrollment, in the grand scheme of things, it may not help the survival prospects of the nation’s community colleges much.

High school students are flocking to community colleges as part of the high-stakes admissions game at the top colleges in the country. On paper, these students can transfer in as juniors, having completed two years (or more) of college credits at their local community colleges. In practice, many of these students will enter their dream schools as freshmen, accompanied by no college credits.

Most top-tier universities don’t have articulation agreements with community colleges – local or otherwise – and do not accept credits in large numbers from any other institution. So, why bother with dual enrollment at all? In some respects, dual enrollment is the classroom equivalent of taking multiple runs at the SAT. Currently, fewer universities require the SAT, or have test-optional admissions. Earning a two-year degree is a way for students to prove that they can hang with the rigor of post-secondary coursework.

Dual enrollment is a double-edged sword

While it may put students directly (or virtually) in a community college classroom – thereby increasing enrollment – this is likely a fad. Some students can see past the fact that their 60-credit (or more) transcript will likely find the Registrar’s round file at their preferred four-year school. They can also see past the fact that they will be saving exactly $0.00 on top-tier tuition, as long as their tour at their local community college increases their chances of being accepted elsewhere.

Parents are enthralled by the idea that they could shave two years off a ferocious tuition bill by sending Junior and Dolly to their local community college. Of course, that isn’t what happens. Students still spend 4-5 years in a bachelor’s degree program, the tuition bills keep coming, and parents blame the community college for university’s refusal to transfer its credit to Junior and Dolly’s transcript. The community college quickly becomes – in retrospect – a “waste of time.”

Community colleges already suffer a mostly undeserved reputation as a placed where cost and quality are commensurate. If the four-year schools wanted to be really nasty, they could simply make it known that they will not consider previously earned college credit in any admission decisions for high school age applicants. Given community colleges’ growing reliance on dual enrollment to keep the doors open, this maneuver could be catastrophic for community colleges.

Photo Credit: Shaine Mata , via Flickr