High schoolers earning college credit spikes

High schoolers earning college credit spikes

(Calif.) In the past five years, the number of high school students in California earning college credit has more than doubled, as the traditional lines between secondary schools and community colleges increasingly blur.

In the fall semester of 2012 about 31,000 high school students earned college credit; last spring the number jumped to more than 68,000, according to data from the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office.

The spike was most likely caused by the passage of AB 288 in 2015, which urged partnerships between community colleges and their feeder high school.

Under the bill, which went into effect last year, lawmakers made it easier for local community colleges and secondary schools to partner up and offer or expand dual enrollment opportunities for students that allow them to earn college credit while still in high school.

“That cleared the way for our colleges and high schools to more closely work together, and it’s why you’re seeing a sharp increase in dual enrollment,” said Van Ton-Quinlivan, vice chancellor of workforce and economic development at the Chancellor’s Office.

“Our role is to get students into the workforce in areas of labor market demand, and we have more capacity than the high schools to look at the labor market and develop pathways that will set students up for success,” Ton-Quinlivan said in an interview. “We’re working with our K-12 partners to create early awareness of different high demand career options in the high schools so that when students come to us, they know more and can better select a guided pathway towards transfer or one that helps them hit the ground running if they directly go into the workforce."

Several studies have shown that participants in dual enrollment programs are more likely to graduate high school, enroll in college and earn their degree–particularly among minority and low-income students. Reports also show a decrease in the number of incoming college freshmen in need of remedial classes.

In prior years, though, the process a student had to endure to get a jump start on their college plans was more challenging. They needed to obtain special waivers from their counselors, teachers or parents to take the community college courses if they were under 18 years old, and if permitted, had to take those college courses after school or during the summer.

According to Ton-Quinlivan, it’s important that community colleges work with high schools to ensure that even those students who don’t always think of themselves as being college-worthy are able to experience a dual enrollment course, because doing so often boosts their confidence in their own abilities.

It is up to high schools to provide students with a more generic set of skills for a group of related pathways so that once students graduate they can concentrate on skills for one industry- or occupation-specific to that pathway, she said. For instance, students may participate in career pathway in high school directed toward jobs in heath, and take some of the introductory courses. Then, when they enroll full time at their local community college, they are already on track to go into training for a specific career, such as dental hygiene, registered nursing and radiological technology.

Despite recent efforts to improve the career pathway offerings at the K-12 level, however, officials at community colleges are finding that many students are unaware of the breadth of career training options available to them through these partnerships.

“We worry that there’s not enough exposure to the different career options at the high school level now, and we would advocate–even as early as middle school–that students engage in some kind of career exploration in order to inform their education planning though high school and into post-secondary to help them be more successful,” Ton-Quinlivan said. “What we’ve seen is that students aren’t fully aware of the full range of their college options.”

In July, the California Community Colleges announced a $6 million rebranding effort aimed at clearing up misconceptions surrounding career technical education–including the idea that it only deals in jobs in computers, or that CTE is only for the kids who aren’t college-bound. The strategy includes dropping the “T” in CTE, and referring to it as “career education,” and highlighting at the K-12 level the array of in-demand careers available for students to explore, including telecommunications equipment installer, pest control workers or industrial engineers.

Regardless of any confusion over what constitutes “career education,” data shows more students have begun participating in pathway coursework since the passage of AB 288.

In addition to the stronger partnerships that have been developed between community colleges and high schools, Ton-Quinlivan said the state’s significant increases in funding for dual enrollment expansion though the California Career Pathway Trust and CTE Incentive Grant has been a major factor. And while there is more progress to be made, she said districts are making gains in working more closely with local colleges to create stronger career education pathways that are more useful for students.

“I think we’re on a good trajectory and we have great momentum, but it’s very early. It takes time to build these pathways and these relationships,” Ton-Quinlivan said. “As we get better at this, more students will find their way from the secondary level to college.”