Why is Concurrent Enrollment So Popular?

Teacher looking at a student's work

Concurrent enrollment is no longer a trend – it’s a fact of educational life. And no wonder. It’s a great deal for students. It’s a great deal for parents or others who pay college tuition.

A recent policy brief from the Colorado Department of Higher Education spells out the benefits, and a deeper dive puts one other number to concurrent enrollment – tuition savings to families.

Concurrent Enrollment vs. Dual Enrollment

Although both signify partnerships between K-12 school districts and higher education institutions, the terms are not interchangeable.

According to the Department of Higher Education, concurrent enrollment meets four criteria:

  • A specific structure for providing college courses to high school students
  • Colorado Opportunity Fund eligibility
  • Tuition paid for, in most cases, up to the local community college rate
  • Coursework that applies to a degree or certificate

Dual enrollment is probably anything else. Some clues: the student or parent pays the tuition, and course transferability may vary.

FRCC works with high schools throughout our service area on concurrent enrollment and other high school programs.

One other note: Pathways in Technology Early College High Schools (P-TECH) and Early Colleges are treated like concurrent enrollment. That’s a good thing because FRCC has two of the first three P-TECH programs in Colorado, one with the St. Vrain Valley School District, the other with Adams 12. We also find Early College students among our concurrent-enrollment students.

It’s No Trend

Back in the early days – 2009 – there were 5,000 dual-enrolled (either concurrent or otherwise) students, the policy brief notes. In 2015-16, the latest reporting year, there were more than 38,000. The vast majority – more than 25,000 – were concurrent-enrollment students. More than nine in 10 school districts in Colorado, and more than eight in 10 high schools participated in concurrent enrollment.

Access to All

From that 2009-2010 report year to 2015-2016, participation among Hispanic/Latino students increased 37 percent; for African-American students, 65 percent; Native American/Alaskan Native students, 12 percent.

It’s no wonder the report can state, “Concurrent and dual enrollment are key strategies for increasing attainment and closing equity gaps in Colorado, and more must be done to give all students equal access to the state’s Concurrent Enrollment program.”

Huge Benefits to Students

The research brief pulls from a 2014 study that used Colorado data that show participation in concurrent enrollment is associated with:

  • An increased likelihood of enrolling in college after high school (23 percentage points higher)
  • A decreased need for remediation (11 percentage points lower)
  • Higher earned cumulative credit hours by the end of the first year (9 more credit hours)
  • Higher first-year grade point averages (0.15 higher)
  • Higher first-year retention rates (3 percentage points higher)

Huge Benefit for Tuition Savings

Yes, school districts, and, therefore, taxpayers pay tuition for concurrent-enrollment students. Keep in mind I’ve written previously about the return on investment the public receives from its investment in FRCC.

But when the student graduates from high school and enters college, someone – parents, guardians, or the students themselves – pay tuition.

Using that 2015-2016 year, and just at FRCC, concurrent enrollment students earned 29,035 credit hours. The overwhelming majority of those credits were transferable credits within Colorado. In career/technical areas, not only do the students become job-ready, but the credits earned also apply to certificates that build toward degrees. Taken together – transfer or career/technical – families and/or the students themselves saved nearly $6 million on tuition.

It’s no wonder concurrent enrollment is big and getting bigger.

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John Feeley is director of public relations at Front Range Community College.