More high school students could take college classes with dual enrollment

October 23, 2011
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LANSING — Michigan legislators may remove prerequisites from high school dual enrollment to allow more students to participate.

It’s a move that worries cash-strapped local school districts that would have to pay for the tuition.

Dual enrollment allows high school juniors and seniors to take college courses if they score high enough on that subject on the Michigan Merit Exam. But any high school student would be allowed to dual enroll without testing under a bill sponsored by Sen. Judy Emmons, R-Sheridan.

“I think it’s important for kids to reach their potential,” Emmons said. “It’s a help for getting a jump start on college.”

However, some high school administrators, such as Jim Ballard, executive director of the Michigan Association of Secondary School Principals, believe that while the bill could allow students more opportunities to dual enroll, some sections dealing with funding are borderline unconstitutional.

When a student meets the requirements to dual enroll, their high school pays for course fees at the local college. That money is provided by the state at a fixed rate per student. But the bill would also allow for students from private schools and those who are home schooled to dual enroll with money from this public fund.

“For a nonpublic school or home-schooled child, the school does not pay for it, it comes straight from the state treasurer’s office to the higher education institution,” Ballard said. “If a student enrolls in a class, and yet doesn’t complete the class, the check is refunded back to the student.”

“This legislation will allow students who are coming from nonpublic education to be dual enrolled in community colleges that the public would be paying for,” Sen. Coleman Young II, D-Detroit, said at a recent Senate Education Committee hearing.

“I support children being able to go and enroll in community college and achieve their dreams; I think it is part of the American Dream,” Young said. “My big concern is having public dollars going for private children. If you added some sort of compromise or some sort of funding system, I would probably support this legislation.”

Emmons acknowledged that more students dual enrolling means high schools would be paying for more students to attend college classes. She said she hopes to leave leeway in the bill for high schools to create dual enrollment policies that will work for their students.

“I’m not sure it will hurt the schools,” Emmons said. “I think they will use their own judgment as far as what they can and can’t do.”

Emmons said that the bill would not allow students to dual enroll just to get out of school during the day and not take the course seriously.

“Students understand this is a responsibility on their part, this is a privilege,” Emmons said. “You get the benefits of dual enrolling, but if a student fails to complete the dual enrollment, they will be responsible for paying the money back to the high school.”

Colleges that will see more high school students take their classes will benefit, according to one fiscal impact analysis. Adriana Phelan, vice president of public policy for the Michigan Community College Association, said her group fully backs the bill.

“The community colleges in Michigan are supportive of all opportunities to really accelerate high school students into a full college education,” Phelan said.

She said about 60 percent of students come into college not completely ready for a college workload. If more students dual enroll, they might reach college better prepared.

Phelan said she was concerned that the bill lacked prerequisites for dual enrollment criteria.

“We have standards of quality that we need to uphold at the community college,” she said.

Phelan said she also is concerned about where the funding would come from. She said the state should expand education funding to allow for more students to dual enroll so that high schools don’t have to bear the entire burden.

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