Lawmakers could be looking to expand the state’s dual enrollment program for public school students after the Senate Universities and Colleges Committee held a hearing Tuesday.
With workforce development being a big plank of Gov. Tate Reeves’ plans to improve the state’s economy, more funding and other changes could be ahead for the dual enrollment program, which was created in 2016.
Mississippi’s program run by the state Department of Education has both dual enrollment, which is for students enrolled in either a community college or state institution of higher learning while also enrolled in high school, and dual credit students. The difference is dual credit students receive both high school and post-secondary credit for their coursework, while dual enrolled students receive only the latter.
The courses eligible for dual credit include foreign languages, advanced math and science classes, performing arts, advanced business and technology courses and career/vocational technology courses.
According to data from the Mississippi Department of Education, there were 30,900 high school graduates in the 2017-2018 school year. The 9,525 students who participated in dual credit had a higher rate of enrollment in post-secondary programs (87.6 percent vs. 57.1 percent who didn’t participate in the program) and were more likely to return to post-secondary work (77.2 percent vs. 39.1 percent for those non-participants).
“We’ve got an issue that is kind of staring us in the face,” said state Superintendent of Education Carey Wright. “Dual credit classes really position children well for enrolling in post-secondary and not only position them well for enrolling but remaining and returning back to school rather than dropping out.”
Wright told lawmakers that the tuition and fees for dual enrollment/dual credit students should be standardized in statute like some other states. She also said the Legislature should provide funding to cover the cost for the first 12 credit hours of coursework in the program to eliminate financial barriers to families.
The number of students participating in the dual credit program has grown from 6.6 percent of eligible students to 14 percent and 98.1 of participating students passed the courses with a grade of C or higher.
These programs are divided into two tracks: Early college and middle college. Early college allows students in grades 9 through 12 to pursue both a high school diploma and an associates degree while taking classes on the campus of their local community college.
The fees range from $50 per course to $375 per course at community colleges and from $72 per course to $939 at the state’s public universities. Course fees vary depending on where the courses are taught, with those on a college or university campus having higher fees.
Community college leaders say that the lawmakers must provide more funds to help sustain the program.
“The challenge the community colleges are facing is one of being able to offer these deep discounts,” said Andrea Mayfield, the executive director of the Mississippi Community College Board. “We’re providing that education at such a steep discount. Where are we going to make up the difference?”
She recommended that the Legislature provide tuition costs for an established number of dual credit hours for high school students and provide more funding for the community college system to reflect their increased role.
One area where expanding the dual-enrollment program could help students seeking post-graduation careers are those participating in a program started by a bill passed last session.
House Bill 1336, also known as the Mississippi Learn to Earn Act, gave students participating in an apprenticeship or internship in occupations such as welding, plumbing, auto repair, hospitality, manufacturing and other trades the chance to receive elective course credit toward graduation from high school.
Nathan Oakley, MDE’s chief academic officer, told lawmakers that the career technical courses aren’t as prevalent as the academic courses, but they would count toward post-secondary credit. He also said that students aren’t limited in the amount of credits they can receive toward their high school diploma in career/vocational tech courses.
Middle college is more focused on dual credit students who take classes at both a college campus and their high school campus
Other states could offer a guide for Mississippi if lawmakers want to expand the program.
Idaho provides every public school student an allocation of $4,125 to help pay for dual/concurrent enrollment credits and the cost per credit hour is capped at $75. Funding a similar program in Mississippi would cost $246 million for just high school juniors and seniors, according to enrollment data from this school year.
Colorado’s program uses per-pupil spending to pay for enrollment costs at their local community college or other qualified institution of higher education with a cooperative agreement. Michigan and Washington also have similar programs as well.