What is Dual Enrollment?

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By Kathryn Flynn

March 24, 2021

Dual enrollment allows high school students to take college classes while they are still enrolled in high school. 

These classes count for both high school and college credit. High school students who complete dual enrollment classes generally take fewer classes in college and save money on total college costs. 

Not all students are eligible to take dual enrollment classes in high school, though. Requirements vary by state, but students typically must be a junior or senior and must maintain a minimum GPA.

This article covers how dual enrollment works, requirements, benefits and what to do if your school doesn’t offer it.

How Dual Enrollment Works

Dual enrollment, also referred to as dual credit, allows current high school students to take college-level classes. If the student passes the class, it will count for both high school and college credit. 

The types of dual credit classes offered varies by school district. Many high schools include introductory college coursework in subjects like Humanities, English, Math, Social Studies and Science. 

Most dual enrollment classes are taken at the student’s high school, a local community college or online. Home-schooled students may also take dual credit courses if they meet state requirements. 

Dual enrollment classes are available for students pursuing a Bachelor’s degree, Associate’s degree, or Career and Technical Education certificates.

To earn college credit, students must pass a dual enrollment class with a C or better. The grade earned will be part of the student’s college academic record. 

Unlike AP classes, students do not have to pass an exam to earn college credit. College admissions counselors may consider dual credit grades during the admissions process.

However, not all colleges accept dual enrollment credits. An in-state public college is more likely to accept dual credit than out-of-state public colleges or private colleges. 

Students should research their options and meet with their school counselor before enrolling in a dual enrollment class.

Dual Enrollment vs. Advanced Placement Classes

Dual enrollment and Advanced Placement (AP) classes are both college-level courses that high school students can take for college credit.

However, there are important differences to understand if you’re thinking about enrolling in either type of class.

Who offers the course:

Dual enrollment classes are college classes that are available to high school students. They may be offered at your high school, but they are often taught by college professors on campus or online.

Advanced Placement classes are taught at high schools, by high school teachers. They’re intended to be taught at the college level but are organized by the high school.

How credit is awarded:

Dual enrollment students can receive college credit for passing the course. However, there is no guarantee that the college you attend will accept your dual enrollment credits. 

AP students must take a standardized test at the end of the school year and receive a minimum score, determined by the college they attend, to receive credit. 

Course length:

Dual enrollment courses often only last for one semester, meaning students earn college credit by taking a class for half of a typical school year. 

Advanced Placement classes typically last for a full school year. In the time it takes to take a single AP class, a student could take two dual credit classes.

Cost:

Both courses usually involve a cost. Dual enrollment courses can cost up to $400, depending on where you live. AP exams cost $95 per exam.

Dual-Enrollment Requirements

Dual enrollment requirements vary by state. 

Many states only offer dual credit classes to high school juniors and seniors. 

Three states require dual enrollment students to be at least a sophomore in high school, and 12 states require them to be at least a junior. Some states will even allow younger students to take dual enrollment classes if they are considered gifted.

High school students in Alabama, Florida, Maine, Mississippi, Missouri, and North Carolina must have a minimum GPA to participate in dual enrollment classes, typically at least a 3.0. 

In many states, students must provide a written recommendation from a teacher, principal, coach, or other high school or college staff member to be eligible for dual enrollment. 

Other eligibility requirements may include:

  • Parent permission
  • College course prerequisites or other course placement criteria
  • Minimum ACT or SAT scores
  • Entrance requirements set by the college

Dual Enrollment Helps Students Save on College Costs

Dual enrollment is a cost-effective way to earn college credit. 

Students who earn college credit during high school generally have to take fewer classes in college to earn a degree. Career and Technical Education students who complete dual enrollment classes may also be able to enter the workforce sooner. 

Dual enrollment classes cost between $0 to $400, according to Pearson, which is significantly less than the cost of a traditional college class.

Dual credit tuition costs may be covered by the state, the student’s high school district, the student or their parent, or some combination of these. 

In nine states, the student or their parents are primarily responsible for paying dual credit tuition.

Families who have to pay for dual-enrollment credits may use a 529 plan to cover tuition costs. 

However, 529 plan withdrawals used to pay for other dual enrollment expenses, such as books and supplies, are considered non-qualified distributions. 

The earnings portion of a non-qualified 529 plan distribution is subject to income tax and a 10% penalty, and any state tax benefits claimed may be subject to recapture.

How Much Can Dual Enrollment Save?

If you’re considering dual enrollment as a way to save money, it’s important to know how much it can really save you compared to the cost of classes at a college.

Dual enrollment can cost as much as $400 per class, plus you have to consider the costs of getting to the classes, textbooks, and other class materials.

The average cost of a college credit hour is $559. That means that one dual credit class, which usually is worth four credit hours, is worth $2,336. 

cost per credit hour at postsecondary institutions

(Image Source)

However, the cost of a credit hour varies widely from college to college. 

If you go to a four-year public school, a credit hour only costs $396 on average, making the dual enrollment course worth $1,584. A four-year private school, on the other hand, tends to charge $1,492 per credit, making a dual credit course worth $5,968.

To figure out how much taking a dual enrollment class can help you save, start by thinking about the type of college you plan to attend. Before you count on the savings, be sure that the school will accept your dual credit.

Take the cost of four credit hours at that type of college, then subtract any costs you have to pay to take the course, including tuition and supplies like textbooks, to find the amount you’ll save.

Also consider the fact that if you take enough dual credit classes to graduate from college a semester early, you can also save on room and board costs. This will help reduce the amount you’ll have to borrow in student loans.

Other Benefits of Dual Enrollment

Research shows that students who participate in dual enrollment programs are more likely to graduate from high school, enroll in college, enroll full-time in college, earn higher grades, and graduate from college. They are also more likely to obtain a Bachelor’s degree than an Associate’s degree or certificate.

Several studies have shown that students who take dual enrollment classes are much more likely to be successful in college than students who do not:

  • A 2017 study from Columbia University revealed that 88% of students who took dual enrollment classes went on to enroll in college at ages 18-20.
  • Of those students, 46% of those who enrolled in community college and 64% of those who enroll in a four-year college earned a degree within five years.
  • A University of Texas study found that students with dual enrollment credit were twice as likely to remain in school compared to those who entered college with no credits.
  • A 2017 Illinois study reported that dual enrollment students were nine percentage points more likely to attain a Bachelor’s degree. 

Are There Drawbacks to Dual Enrollment?

Dual enrollment classes can be a great way to save money on college by getting some credit before you graduate high school, but before you enroll, you should consider the drawbacks.

Dual credit courses may be more difficult

For the student, the most obvious drawback is that a dual credit class will likely be more difficult than a similar high school class. You’re taking a college-level course, which means more time spent studying and working on papers and homework. 

If you already struggle with a subject or have a difficult academic schedule, jumping to a higher level class could be hard and lead to a lot of stress. 

The grades you receive are included on your college transcripts. So, if you don’t adapt to the harder class, it may cause issues when you apply to colleges.

The more rigorous classes can also interfere with extracurricular activities. If you have to spend more time working on a college-level class, that leaves you with less time to focus on clubs and sports.

Transportation

Another thing to consider is that you have to find a way to get to and from the dual enrollment classes you’re taking, if they’re not offered online or at your high school. 

Typically, you’ll attend classes at a local community college campus. Some high schools offer transportation for students to get to and from dual enrollment courses, but some do not.That means you may have to drive or find another way to get there.

Sometimes, the classes you want to take will interfere with your normal high school schedule. If this is the case, you may have to work with your school to find a solution.

Finally, there’s no guarantee that the college you attend after graduating will accept your dual credit courses.

Despite these potential drawbacks, taking dual enrollment classes can be an effective strategy to reduce future college costs.

What if My School Doesn’t Offer Dual Enrollment?

If your school doesn’t have a dual credit program, there are other ways that you can work to earn college credit before you graduate from high school.

One of the most popular ways for high school students to earn college credit is through Advanced Placement classes, which we mentioned above. 

These classes are taught at your high school by high school teachers but are typically intended to be taught at the college level.

At the end of the school year, the College Board offers Advanced Placement exams. Each exam costs $95. 

After you take the exam, you’ll receive a score on a five-point scale. Many colleges will accept AP scores of 4 or 5, giving the student credit for equivalent courses.

For example, you could earn credit for a math class if you score a 5 on an AP Calculus exam.

Students can take as many AP exams as they want each year. In fact, students can take AP exams even if they did not enroll in an AP course at their school. 

So, if you’re confident about a subject or have done an independent study, you might consider taking an AP exam.

Another exam, the College Level Examination Program (CLEP), allows you to you earn credit based on what you already know. Students may also be able to take summer courses online or at a local college.

Conclusion

Dual enrollment is a good way for high school students to get a head start on their college education. 

They can get the experience of attending classes on a college campus while saving money on future tuition costs.

The increased rigor of dual enrollment classes can also prepare students for more difficult classes and help their chances of admission to more prestigious schools.

A good place to start:

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