The Virginia Plan for Dual Enrollment: A Historical Perspective

by Rhonda K. Catron

from Inquiry, Volume 2, Number 1, Spring 1998, 13-21

© Copyright 1998 Virginia Community College System

Return to Volume 2, Number 1


Abstract

Catron researches the history of the Virginia Plan for Dual Enrollment, tracing various rationales and identifying successes of and concerns with the current dual credit program.

 

When I was hired as a full-time member of the English Department at Wytheville Community College in 1990, one of the responsibilities of my position was to serve as a liaison to a small group of adjunct faculty, most of whom had taught dual credit/dual enrollment English courses. I knew relatively little about the dual credit English program but soon learned that it was designed to allow qualified high school students, usually seniors, to earn both high school and college credit for their senior English courses. I contacted each of the teachers I had been assigned, but these contacts ended up being fairly brief. The teachers had been teaching far longer than I, and there seemed relatively little that I could offer in the way of assistance. From that point on, I made what became obligatory calls to them to say "How are things going?" and "If you need anything, let me know."

Then in fall semester 1996 someone took me up on the offer of assistance. One afternoon one of the teachers called with a concern. Her high school was adopting a block scheduling format, and she had been informed by the high school administration that she would be teaching both semesters of freshman composition (English 111 and English 112) in a single semester. Technically, with the number of contact hours, the school system could do that. However, from a pedagogical and philosophical perspective, the teacher had doubts. Agreeing with her completely, I told her that I would see what the college's policy was. When I approached my supervisor, the Division Chair for Business, Humanities, and Social Science, he pointed out that offering both courses in a single semester was basically what the college did in summer school when offering each semester of freshman composition in a five-week session. He also informed me that the decision had been made by the high school system and that technically the school board had the authority to schedule the courses however it wished as long as scheduling met the requirement for the number of contact hours per course credit. He also pointed out that with the block scheduling format the public schools were to be using, high school students would actually be in class for longer periods of time than the students who took our regular community college courses.

In my initial naivete, I accepted his answer and passed the information on to the teacher. The more I thought about the issue and the answer I had gotten, however, the less comfortable I was with the situation. I called the teacher several times that semester to discuss how the block scheduling was affecting her teaching of the dual credit course, as well as how students were performing in the class. I also decided to talk with some of the other dual credit English teachers and with other full-time college English faculty. These conversations sparked my interest in the whole concept of dual credit programs in Virginia and prompted me to begin researching the topic. My initial attempts to determine the history of the program revealed a great deal of uncertainty beyond references to the agreement itself that established the program, the Virginia Plan for Dual Enrollment. However, primarily through interviews with individuals involved with the program and through the tracking down of some historical documents, I have been able to begin reconstructing the evolution of dual credit in Virginia. I have researched the rationales for such programs in general, attempted to determine why certain decisions were made for the program in Virginia, and begun to explore the impact, both positive and negative, that the Virginia Plan for Dual Enrollment has had on students, faculty, and educational institutions.

Rationales for Dual Credit Programs

A preliminary review of the literature on dual credit/dual enrollment programs suggests that there were several factors that contributed to the development of such programs. In some cases, dual enrollment courses provided more challenging opportunities for high school students who had already completed most of their graduation requirements. These courses helped address problems with lack of student motivation and "senioritis," both of which appear to have been major factors leading to the development of the Syracuse University Project Advance, "the premier program among those that provide college-level courses to pre-college students" (Daly iii).

Aside from addressing the issue of student boredom, accelerating student completion of college degree was, in fact, a primary rationale in the initial development of Florida's dual enrollment plan, but as the program evolved, its focus shifted from shortening the time required for students to earn college degrees to providing "academic enrichment" (Bickel 14-15).

Yet another set of factors that were more political and economic in nature have also influenced the development of dual credit programs. In "The High School/Community College Connection: An ERIC Review," Theo Mabry begins by stating:

Declining community college enrollments, low test scores and high dropout rates in secondary schools, and a workforce that lacks the necessary skills for burgeoning high tech industries have all contributed to a growing recognition among community college leaders that they must not only actively recruit high school students, but also collaborate with high schools to prepare students to succeed in college. (48)

In such instances, colleges were more active initiators in the movement toward dual credit than high schools.

Arthur Greenberg in High School-College Partnerships: Conceptual Models, Programs and Issues suggests that dual credit programs were developed as a means of addressing such issues as "increasing college tuition costs, public skepticism about the value of increased secondary school spending, debate over the purpose of college and the meaning of cultural literacy," noting that publication of A Nation at Risk "heightened the public perception of a crisis in our schools" and prompted development of programs such as dual credit (25).

In Virginia, the impetus for a dual enrollment program seems to have been an outgrowth of an increased emphasis on articulation between public schools and colleges during the 1980s. At that time public schools and colleges were developing and implementing 2 + 2 programs and Tech Prep programs. The 2 + 2 programs sought to establish coordinated curricula that allowed students to complete two years of a vocational degree in high school and then the subsequent two years of the degree at the community college. The two institutions cooperatively worked out details to avoid unnecessary duplication of material to be covered. The Tech Prep Program was based on a similar premise with the additional rationale that many educational programs primarily catered to the most academically successful college-bound students and that there was a need for a program for the statistically higher number of "average" students who might desire some education beyond high school but who were unlikely to pursue bachelor degrees. As these programs developed, administrators apparently began exploring the possibilities of offering some of the college-level courses to those high school students who were prepared and who had time available in their high school schedules to get a head start on their college degrees, and thus dual enrollment emerged. What exactly sparked this focus on articulation is unclear. Undoubtedly some of the aforementioned rationales for other programs played some role.

Dr. Jeff Hockaday, Chancellor of the Virginia Community College System at the time the agreement establishing Virginia's dual enrollment program was being developed, pointed out that interest among VCCS presidents supporting the development of a dual enrollment program was "sparked by interests of parents/students" as well as by the "generation of FTES and recruitment of students" (1).

The Virginia Plan for Dual Enrollment

Dual enrollment/dual credit programs have been offered formally in Virginia since 1988. At that time, Donald J. Finley, Secretary of Education; S. John Davis, Superintendent of Public Instruction; and Jeff Hockaday signed the Virginia Plan for Dual Enrollment, the document governing dual enrollment agreements between public schools and community colleges in Virginia. The agreement itself resulted from the work of a Task Force on Dual Enrollment, which included representatives from both public instruction and the Virginia Community College System (VCCS).

Program Purpose

Dr. Deborah DiCroce, President of Piedmont Virginia Community College, chaired the Task Force on Dual Enrollment. She noted that there was never any question as to whether or not the community college system would be the agency to participate in the agreement with the public schools, pointing out that the VCCS was in the best position to provide the classes because of its course offerings, as well as its colleges' geographic distribution designed to serve all regions of the state. In separate interviews, both Finley and DiCroce concurred that the primary philosophy behind the initiative to develop a dual enrollment program was the desire to provide a wider range of course offerings to students. Finley commented that such programs were particularly beneficial to rural school systems that often did not have the resources to offer a wide range of advanced courses, especially for their gifted students. The community colleges often had these types of courses already in place, so it seemed logical to make these courses available to qualified high school students. Not only did sharing resources make sense financially, but it also helped eliminate the unnecessary duplication of courses for students who had sometimes been required to take very similar courses in both their high school and college programs. These philosophies were in line with the rationale of programs being offered in other states (as noted above), although Finley, DiCroce, and Hockaday indicated that the Virginia Plan for Dual Enrollment was not directly modeled after any specific program. DiCroce noted that members of the Task Force on Dual Enrollment were aware of the existence of other programs. Dr. Ed Barnes, one of the committee members representing the VCCS, had worked in higher education in North Carolina prior to moving to Virginia and was no doubt familiar with the North Carolina model. Finley had also served on the Southern Regional Education Board and was, therefore, familiar with other dual credit programs.

Course Eligibility

Beyond developing the purpose of the agreement, the Task Force on Dual Enrollment also established certain parameters for the types of courses that could be offered, stating that these could include "academic, fine arts, and vocational subject areas" (Virginia Plan for Dual Enrollment 1). Initially, it was expected that vocational courses would be the most popular dual credit offerings, particularly with the 2+2 and Tech Prep programs already fairly well established in the mid-1980s. Over time, however, academic courses in the transfer area came to dominate dual credit offerings, accounting for 80 percent of all dual credit courses in 1997. All dual credit courses can be "part of a degree, certificate, or diploma program at the community college" but cannot include developmental courses or health and physical education courses.

Student Eligibility

Once course eligibility was established, there was the issue of student eligibility. Indicating that there was "considerable debate" over which students would be allowed to take dual credit courses, DiCroce said that this issue was one of the most difficult to settle because some people wanted courses to be available to any high school student who could meet the placement criteria, regardless of the student's age. Members of the Task Force on Dual Enrollment finally agreed that only qualified high school juniors and seniors who were sixteen years of age or older would be eligible to participate. DiCroce noted that the Task Force members recognized that even though some younger students might have mastered the prerequisite skills for certain courses, there was a level of maturity necessary for them to handle collegiate material that students younger than sixteen might not have.

Admissions Criteria

In terms of "qualified" students, the agreement stipulated that the high school student be recommended by the public school and meet the admissions requirements established by the community college (Virginia Plan for Dual Enrollment 2). Overall, the intent of the Virginia Plan for Dual Enrollment is that dual credit students not receive special consideration for admission but instead be held to the same admission standards as any other student seeking to enroll at the community college.

Faculty Selection

While both high school and community college accrediting agencies govern admissions requirements and credit awarded, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools' (SACS) criteria for community colleges take precedence in terms of policy on faculty selection. All dual credit faculty must meet the same minimum requirements of all community college faculty. Adherence to this requirement is expected at each college, but not all colleges have complied. DiCroce emphasized that tougher SACS criteria and increased accountability required by the VCCS should help eliminate this problem.

Assessment

At the time the Virginia Plan for Dual Enrollment was signed in 1988, it did include a section on assessment. DiCroce commented that this section was deliberately vague, noting that at the time outcomes assessment was just being developed. In retrospect, she believes this was the weakest component of the dual credit arrangement. She said that community colleges have the responsibility to assess dual credit programs as rigorously as any other program they offer. She noted that lack of such assessment measures initially left the program open to criticism and questions about quality which, in turn, led to problems with transferability of dual credit courses to other institutions. She pointed out that recently SACS has added criteria specifically designed to assess the quality of dual credit programs. Also, the VCCS now requires that all community colleges include reports on dual credit programs as part of their overall annual assessment reports. Increased efforts in assessing dual credit programs have most certainly contributed to the transferability of dual credit courses to all but one state-supported four-year institution in Virginia.

State Funding and Tuition and Fees

Even more challenging than the issue of assessment has been the issue of tuition and fees. This issue has come under more scrutiny and attack than any other single component of the Virginia Plan for Dual Enrollment.

Finley pointed out that from his perspective money was never a major factor in establishing the dual credit agreement. According to Finley, neither public schools nor community colleges intended to make money, but rather to provide student access to expanded course offering. DiCroce similarly noted that cost effectiveness of the program was not a primary concern at the time the agreement was established. She said the Task Force on Dual Enrollment was much more concerned with the student pursuit of lifelong learning than with money. At the same time, Hockaday states that both Governor Gerald Baliles and Finley approved credit funding to both public schools (in terms of Average Daily Membership credits) and to community colleges (in terms of Full-Time Equivalent Student credits). Dr. Ned Swartz, who represented the Department of Education on the Task Force on Dual Enrollment and who is currently an associate dean at John Tyler Community College, pointed out that such funding provided necessary incentives for participation in dual enrollment programs for both institutions.

In terms of payment of tuition and fees, the Virginia Plan for Dual Enrollment "encouraged" that courses be offered at no tuition cost to the student; however, this was not a requirement, and, in fact, in some individual agreements students do pay their own way. DiCroce said that members of the Task Force on Dual Enrollment decided unanimously that it would be in everyone's best interest to allow individual colleges to articulate their own agreements with the public schools in their service regions because those colleges were already aware of the dynamics of the public schools with which they would be dealing.

Presently DiCroce and the VCCS remain committed to leaving final decisions about tuition and fees to each college despite recent political pressure to standardize or create a statewide policy. This decision is clearly articulated in the "Report of the Committee on Dual Enrollment Fees" submitted to the Virginia General Assembly in October 1997. This report was in response to a joint resolution (HJR NO. 562) passed in the 1997 session of the Virginia General Assembly requesting "the State Board for Community Colleges study the feasibility of establishing uniform fees for dual enrollment programs." The legislation resulted from complaints about student payment of tuition and fees. The Committee collected data from across the United States and from the community colleges in the VCCS and found no consistency in how institutions handle tuition and fees for dual enrollment. The "Report of the Committee on Dual Enrollment Fees" concluded that "[a]ny significant change to the current agreements might jeopardize (seriously so in some cases) the schools'/school divisions' ability to participate [in dual credit programs]" (7).

Successes and Concerns

The Virginia Plan for Dual Enrollment has succeeded in its purpose of increasing student access, with dual credit FTES accounting for 2.63 percent of total FTES in the VCCS and as much as 10 to 17 percent of total FTES at some individual colleges ("Report of the Committee on Dual Enrollment Fees" 24). The majority of people interviewed made reference to the time- and money-saving aspects of the program for students and their parents.

Community colleges, and even other colleges and universities, benefit not only from the initial generation of FTES from dual credit course enrollments, but also because dual credit often acts as an excellent recruitment tool when successful dual credit students who might not have otherwise considered pursuing a college degree see that they are capable of doing college-level work.

Beyond these benefits, the Virginia Plan for Dual Enrollment has also succeeded in improving communication and cooperation between public schools and community colleges. Reaping financial benefits from participation in dual credit programs serves as an incentive for such communication at both institutions.

Despite these positive effects of the program, critical analysis reveals concerns about the program. To begin with, one of the main criticisms leveled against the program by faculty–both high school and community college– is that the program was imposed by the state with no direct input from teaching faculty. At Wytheville Community College, faculty from all academic disciplines in which dual credit courses are offered stated that they initially voiced reservations about the program, but their concerns were essentially ignored. Such reservations included philosophical concerns about combining (if not literally replacing) junior and senior courses with college level courses. Faculty also questioned whether or not high school students would be mature enough to handle some college material. Perception among most faculty was (and often still is) that the financial benefits of the program overshadowed serious consideration of such concerns.

When the dual credit program was implemented, community college faculty were often required to participate in various ways. In some disciplines, community college faculty often taught the dual credit courses, either on campus on at the high schools. Whether or not they taught the courses, community college faculty were responsible for developing appropriate course outlines, selecting textbooks, and sometimes spending time training dual credit teachers, who were most often high school teachers. One community college faculty noted that at least initially there was a significant time investment demanded of him with no additional compensation. Even after programs were established, some faculty were, and still are, required to assist dual credit faculty, as was I. This can be a burden on already overworked faculty who teach fifteen credit hours per semester, advise as many as 50-100 students, serve on committees, sponsor student clubs and activities, and participate in professional development activities.

Not only are some community college faculty forced to participate but so are high school faculty. In some cases, because of the accreditation criteria for faculty selection, it is not unusual (particularly in small rural schools) that there is only one faculty member per discipline certified to teach dual credit courses. He or she is usually assigned to do so, regardless of willingness to teach the course. In one case, a high school principal essentially mandated that a high school teacher obtain a master's degree to be able to teach dual credit courses even though the teacher had no desire to do that. Additionally, some high school administrators further impose policy on faculty through decisions about scheduling dual credit courses. This was the situation when the dual credit English teacher I was working with expressed concern about the move to block scheduling. The principal ignored the issue. When the teacher looked to the community college for support, the college responded by saying such a move was no different than community colleges offerings during summer school. However, both dual credit and community college faculty argued that there was a difference, noting that students taking regular summer school courses had already completed high school courses, whereas dual credit students had not and might not be ready for such accelerated study.

Another concern about dual credit courses centers on the physical settings of such courses. Only a small number of courses are generally offered on the community college campus. More often, dual credit courses are taught in the high school setting. Dr. DiCroce, along with other community college faculty, pointed out that some four-year colleges and universities question if the high school setting can provide an environment equivalent to that of a classroom on a college campus. Critics of the high school setting note that high school class time is often interrupted with announcements and other extra-curricular activities. Also, dual credit students do not have the same opportunities to interact with the wider range of peers that they might if they took the "regular" college courses on campus. This issue of setting and its effect on the comparable quality of dual credit courses has prompted questions about the transferability of dual credit course work to four-year institutions, particularly to the University of Virginia which refuses to accept dual credit courses for transfer credit in most programs (although UVA will accept some dual credit courses for elective credit in some programs). Many private and out-of-state institutions do not accept dual credit courses at all.

Conclusions

After researching the history of the Virginia Plan for Dual Enrollment, as well as reviewing related literature on other dual credit programs and high school/college partnerships, I believe the need exists for more in-depth study and analysis of the program. The Virginia Plan for Dual Enrollment is based on sound rationale and does provide benefits to students, parents, high schools, and community colleges. However, if quality is to be assured in the dual credit program, several issues of concern need to be addressed.


Works Consulted

Barnes, Ed. President, New River Community College. Personal interview. 15 Oct.1997.

Bickel, Robert. "Student Acceleration: Redefining an Educational Reform." ERS Spectrum Vol. IV, No. 2, Spring 1986. 14-21.

Capps, John. Division Chair, Virginia Western Community College. Personal interview. 18 March 1997.

Daly, William T., ed. College-School Collaboration: Appraising the Major Approaches. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1985.

DiCroce, Deborah. President, Piedmont Virginia Community College. Personal interview. 7 Nov. 1997.

Finley, Donald. Former Secretary of Education, Commonwealth of Virginia. Personal interview. 20 Oct. 1997.

Flythe, Fran. "Study of Dual Credit in the VCCS." Virginia Community College System Research Report Series. Fall 1993.

Greenberg, Arthur R. High School-College Partnerships: Conceptual Models, Programs, and Issues. Washington, D.C.: George Washington University, 1991.

Hockaday, Jeff. Former Chancellor, Virginia Community College System. Personal letter. 20 Nov. 1997.

Hull, Dan and Dale Parnell. Tech Prep Associate Degree: A Win/Win Experience. Waco, TX: Center for Occupational Research and Development, 1991.

Johnson, David. Coordinator of Dual Credit, Wytheville Community College. Personal interview. 28 Feb. 1997.

Jones, Dan. Division Chair, Wytheville Community College. Personal interview. 18 Feb. 1997.

Mabry, Theo. "The High School/Community College Connection: An ERIC Review." Community College Review Vol. 16, No. 3. 48-53.

"Report of the Committee on Dual Enrollment Fees (HJR 562)." Virginia Community College System. 1 Oct. 1997.

Snyder, William F. President, Wytheville Community College. Personal interview. 26 Feb. 1997.

Suarez, Terence. Dean of Instruction and Student Services, Wytheville Community College. Personal interview. 3 Nov. 1997.

Swartz, Ned. Associate Dean, John Tyler Community College. Personal interview. 21 Nov. 1997.

* I conducted formal and informal interviews with full-time community college faculty, dual credit faculty, and high school administrators, but because some individuals requested to remain anonymous, I am choosing to keep these participants anonymous.


Rhonda K. Catron is Assistant Professor of English at Wytheville Community College and is currently a doctoral student at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State Univeristy. She is tentatively planning to complete her dissertation on dual credit English.

The Virginia Plan for Dual Enrollment: A Historical Perspective

by Rhonda K. Catron

from Inquiry, Volume 2, Number 1, Spring 1998, 13-21

© Copyright 1998 Virginia Community College System

Return to Volume 2, Number 1


Abstract

Catron researches the history of the Virginia Plan for Dual Enrollment, tracing various rationales and identifying successes of and concerns with the current dual credit program.

 

When I was hired as a full-time member of the English Department at Wytheville Community College in 1990, one of the responsibilities of my position was to serve as a liaison to a small group of adjunct faculty, most of whom had taught dual credit/dual enrollment English courses. I knew relatively little about the dual credit English program but soon learned that it was designed to allow qualified high school students, usually seniors, to earn both high school and college credit for their senior English courses. I contacted each of the teachers I had been assigned, but these contacts ended up being fairly brief. The teachers had been teaching far longer than I, and there seemed relatively little that I could offer in the way of assistance. From that point on, I made what became obligatory calls to them to say "How are things going?" and "If you need anything, let me know."

Then in fall semester 1996 someone took me up on the offer of assistance. One afternoon one of the teachers called with a concern. Her high school was adopting a block scheduling format, and she had been informed by the high school administration that she would be teaching both semesters of freshman composition (English 111 and English 112) in a single semester. Technically, with the number of contact hours, the school system could do that. However, from a pedagogical and philosophical perspective, the teacher had doubts. Agreeing with her completely, I told her that I would see what the college's policy was. When I approached my supervisor, the Division Chair for Business, Humanities, and Social Science, he pointed out that offering both courses in a single semester was basically what the college did in summer school when offering each semester of freshman composition in a five-week session. He also informed me that the decision had been made by the high school system and that technically the school board had the authority to schedule the courses however it wished as long as scheduling met the requirement for the number of contact hours per course credit. He also pointed out that with the block scheduling format the public schools were to be using, high school students would actually be in class for longer periods of time than the students who took our regular community college courses.

In my initial naivete, I accepted his answer and passed the information on to the teacher. The more I thought about the issue and the answer I had gotten, however, the less comfortable I was with the situation. I called the teacher several times that semester to discuss how the block scheduling was affecting her teaching of the dual credit course, as well as how students were performing in the class. I also decided to talk with some of the other dual credit English teachers and with other full-time college English faculty. These conversations sparked my interest in the whole concept of dual credit programs in Virginia and prompted me to begin researching the topic. My initial attempts to determine the history of the program revealed a great deal of uncertainty beyond references to the agreement itself that established the program, the Virginia Plan for Dual Enrollment. However, primarily through interviews with individuals involved with the program and through the tracking down of some historical documents, I have been able to begin reconstructing the evolution of dual credit in Virginia. I have researched the rationales for such programs in general, attempted to determine why certain decisions were made for the program in Virginia, and begun to explore the impact, both positive and negative, that the Virginia Plan for Dual Enrollment has had on students, faculty, and educational institutions.

Rationales for Dual Credit Programs

A preliminary review of the literature on dual credit/dual enrollment programs suggests that there were several factors that contributed to the development of such programs. In some cases, dual enrollment courses provided more challenging opportunities for high school students who had already completed most of their graduation requirements. These courses helped address problems with lack of student motivation and "senioritis," both of which appear to have been major factors leading to the development of the Syracuse University Project Advance, "the premier program among those that provide college-level courses to pre-college students" (Daly iii).

Aside from addressing the issue of student boredom, accelerating student completion of college degree was, in fact, a primary rationale in the initial development of Florida's dual enrollment plan, but as the program evolved, its focus shifted from shortening the time required for students to earn college degrees to providing "academic enrichment" (Bickel 14-15).

Yet another set of factors that were more political and economic in nature have also influenced the development of dual credit programs. In "The High School/Community College Connection: An ERIC Review," Theo Mabry begins by stating:

Declining community college enrollments, low test scores and high dropout rates in secondary schools, and a workforce that lacks the necessary skills for burgeoning high tech industries have all contributed to a growing recognition among community college leaders that they must not only actively recruit high school students, but also collaborate with high schools to prepare students to succeed in college. (48)

In such instances, colleges were more active initiators in the movement toward dual credit than high schools.

Arthur Greenberg in High School-College Partnerships: Conceptual Models, Programs and Issues suggests that dual credit programs were developed as a means of addressing such issues as "increasing college tuition costs, public skepticism about the value of increased secondary school spending, debate over the purpose of college and the meaning of cultural literacy," noting that publication of A Nation at Risk "heightened the public perception of a crisis in our schools" and prompted development of programs such as dual credit (25).

In Virginia, the impetus for a dual enrollment program seems to have been an outgrowth of an increased emphasis on articulation between public schools and colleges during the 1980s. At that time public schools and colleges were developing and implementing 2 + 2 programs and Tech Prep programs. The 2 + 2 programs sought to establish coordinated curricula that allowed students to complete two years of a vocational degree in high school and then the subsequent two years of the degree at the community college. The two institutions cooperatively worked out details to avoid unnecessary duplication of material to be covered. The Tech Prep Program was based on a similar premise with the additional rationale that many educational programs primarily catered to the most academically successful college-bound students and that there was a need for a program for the statistically higher number of "average" students who might desire some education beyond high school but who were unlikely to pursue bachelor degrees. As these programs developed, administrators apparently began exploring the possibilities of offering some of the college-level courses to those high school students who were prepared and who had time available in their high school schedules to get a head start on their college degrees, and thus dual enrollment emerged. What exactly sparked this focus on articulation is unclear. Undoubtedly some of the aforementioned rationales for other programs played some role.

Dr. Jeff Hockaday, Chancellor of the Virginia Community College System at the time the agreement establishing Virginia's dual enrollment program was being developed, pointed out that interest among VCCS presidents supporting the development of a dual enrollment program was "sparked by interests of parents/students" as well as by the "generation of FTES and recruitment of students" (1).

The Virginia Plan for Dual Enrollment

Dual enrollment/dual credit programs have been offered formally in Virginia since 1988. At that time, Donald J. Finley, Secretary of Education; S. John Davis, Superintendent of Public Instruction; and Jeff Hockaday signed the Virginia Plan for Dual Enrollment, the document governing dual enrollment agreements between public schools and community colleges in Virginia. The agreement itself resulted from the work of a Task Force on Dual Enrollment, which included representatives from both public instruction and the Virginia Community College System (VCCS).

Program Purpose

Dr. Deborah DiCroce, President of Piedmont Virginia Community College, chaired the Task Force on Dual Enrollment. She noted that there was never any question as to whether or not the community college system would be the agency to participate in the agreement with the public schools, pointing out that the VCCS was in the best position to provide the classes because of its course offerings, as well as its colleges' geographic distribution designed to serve all regions of the state. In separate interviews, both Finley and DiCroce concurred that the primary philosophy behind the initiative to develop a dual enrollment program was the desire to provide a wider range of course offerings to students. Finley commented that such programs were particularly beneficial to rural school systems that often did not have the resources to offer a wide range of advanced courses, especially for their gifted students. The community colleges often had these types of courses already in place, so it seemed logical to make these courses available to qualified high school students. Not only did sharing resources make sense financially, but it also helped eliminate the unnecessary duplication of courses for students who had sometimes been required to take very similar courses in both their high school and college programs. These philosophies were in line with the rationale of programs being offered in other states (as noted above), although Finley, DiCroce, and Hockaday indicated that the Virginia Plan for Dual Enrollment was not directly modeled after any specific program. DiCroce noted that members of the Task Force on Dual Enrollment were aware of the existence of other programs. Dr. Ed Barnes, one of the committee members representing the VCCS, had worked in higher education in North Carolina prior to moving to Virginia and was no doubt familiar with the North Carolina model. Finley had also served on the Southern Regional Education Board and was, therefore, familiar with other dual credit programs.

Course Eligibility

Beyond developing the purpose of the agreement, the Task Force on Dual Enrollment also established certain parameters for the types of courses that could be offered, stating that these could include "academic, fine arts, and vocational subject areas" (Virginia Plan for Dual Enrollment 1). Initially, it was expected that vocational courses would be the most popular dual credit offerings, particularly with the 2+2 and Tech Prep programs already fairly well established in the mid-1980s. Over time, however, academic courses in the transfer area came to dominate dual credit offerings, accounting for 80 percent of all dual credit courses in 1997. All dual credit courses can be "part of a degree, certificate, or diploma program at the community college" but cannot include developmental courses or health and physical education courses.

Student Eligibility

Once course eligibility was established, there was the issue of student eligibility. Indicating that there was "considerable debate" over which students would be allowed to take dual credit courses, DiCroce said that this issue was one of the most difficult to settle because some people wanted courses to be available to any high school student who could meet the placement criteria, regardless of the student's age. Members of the Task Force on Dual Enrollment finally agreed that only qualified high school juniors and seniors who were sixteen years of age or older would be eligible to participate. DiCroce noted that the Task Force members recognized that even though some younger students might have mastered the prerequisite skills for certain courses, there was a level of maturity necessary for them to handle collegiate material that students younger than sixteen might not have.

Admissions Criteria

In terms of "qualified" students, the agreement stipulated that the high school student be recommended by the public school and meet the admissions requirements established by the community college (Virginia Plan for Dual Enrollment 2). Overall, the intent of the Virginia Plan for Dual Enrollment is that dual credit students not receive special consideration for admission but instead be held to the same admission standards as any other student seeking to enroll at the community college.

Faculty Selection

While both high school and community college accrediting agencies govern admissions requirements and credit awarded, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools' (SACS) criteria for community colleges take precedence in terms of policy on faculty selection. All dual credit faculty must meet the same minimum requirements of all community college faculty. Adherence to this requirement is expected at each college, but not all colleges have complied. DiCroce emphasized that tougher SACS criteria and increased accountability required by the VCCS should help eliminate this problem.

Assessment

At the time the Virginia Plan for Dual Enrollment was signed in 1988, it did include a section on assessment. DiCroce commented that this section was deliberately vague, noting that at the time outcomes assessment was just being developed. In retrospect, she believes this was the weakest component of the dual credit arrangement. She said that community colleges have the responsibility to assess dual credit programs as rigorously as any other program they offer. She noted that lack of such assessment measures initially left the program open to criticism and questions about quality which, in turn, led to problems with transferability of dual credit courses to other institutions. She pointed out that recently SACS has added criteria specifically designed to assess the quality of dual credit programs. Also, the VCCS now requires that all community colleges include reports on dual credit programs as part of their overall annual assessment reports. Increased efforts in assessing dual credit programs have most certainly contributed to the transferability of dual credit courses to all but one state-supported four-year institution in Virginia.

State Funding and Tuition and Fees

Even more challenging than the issue of assessment has been the issue of tuition and fees. This issue has come under more scrutiny and attack than any other single component of the Virginia Plan for Dual Enrollment.

Finley pointed out that from his perspective money was never a major factor in establishing the dual credit agreement. According to Finley, neither public schools nor community colleges intended to make money, but rather to provide student access to expanded course offering. DiCroce similarly noted that cost effectiveness of the program was not a primary concern at the time the agreement was established. She said the Task Force on Dual Enrollment was much more concerned with the student pursuit of lifelong learning than with money. At the same time, Hockaday states that both Governor Gerald Baliles and Finley approved credit funding to both public schools (in terms of Average Daily Membership credits) and to community colleges (in terms of Full-Time Equivalent Student credits). Dr. Ned Swartz, who represented the Department of Education on the Task Force on Dual Enrollment and who is currently an associate dean at John Tyler Community College, pointed out that such funding provided necessary incentives for participation in dual enrollment programs for both institutions.

In terms of payment of tuition and fees, the Virginia Plan for Dual Enrollment "encouraged" that courses be offered at no tuition cost to the student; however, this was not a requirement, and, in fact, in some individual agreements students do pay their own way. DiCroce said that members of the Task Force on Dual Enrollment decided unanimously that it would be in everyone's best interest to allow individual colleges to articulate their own agreements with the public schools in their service regions because those colleges were already aware of the dynamics of the public schools with which they would be dealing.

Presently DiCroce and the VCCS remain committed to leaving final decisions about tuition and fees to each college despite recent political pressure to standardize or create a statewide policy. This decision is clearly articulated in the "Report of the Committee on Dual Enrollment Fees" submitted to the Virginia General Assembly in October 1997. This report was in response to a joint resolution (HJR NO. 562) passed in the 1997 session of the Virginia General Assembly requesting "the State Board for Community Colleges study the feasibility of establishing uniform fees for dual enrollment programs." The legislation resulted from complaints about student payment of tuition and fees. The Committee collected data from across the United States and from the community colleges in the VCCS and found no consistency in how institutions handle tuition and fees for dual enrollment. The "Report of the Committee on Dual Enrollment Fees" concluded that "[a]ny significant change to the current agreements might jeopardize (seriously so in some cases) the schools'/school divisions' ability to participate [in dual credit programs]" (7).

Successes and Concerns

The Virginia Plan for Dual Enrollment has succeeded in its purpose of increasing student access, with dual credit FTES accounting for 2.63 percent of total FTES in the VCCS and as much as 10 to 17 percent of total FTES at some individual colleges ("Report of the Committee on Dual Enrollment Fees" 24). The majority of people interviewed made reference to the time- and money-saving aspects of the program for students and their parents.

Community colleges, and even other colleges and universities, benefit not only from the initial generation of FTES from dual credit course enrollments, but also because dual credit often acts as an excellent recruitment tool when successful dual credit students who might not have otherwise considered pursuing a college degree see that they are capable of doing college-level work.

Beyond these benefits, the Virginia Plan for Dual Enrollment has also succeeded in improving communication and cooperation between public schools and community colleges. Reaping financial benefits from participation in dual credit programs serves as an incentive for such communication at both institutions.

Despite these positive effects of the program, critical analysis reveals concerns about the program. To begin with, one of the main criticisms leveled against the program by faculty–both high school and community college– is that the program was imposed by the state with no direct input from teaching faculty. At Wytheville Community College, faculty from all academic disciplines in which dual credit courses are offered stated that they initially voiced reservations about the program, but their concerns were essentially ignored. Such reservations included philosophical concerns about combining (if not literally replacing) junior and senior courses with college level courses. Faculty also questioned whether or not high school students would be mature enough to handle some college material. Perception among most faculty was (and often still is) that the financial benefits of the program overshadowed serious consideration of such concerns.

When the dual credit program was implemented, community college faculty were often required to participate in various ways. In some disciplines, community college faculty often taught the dual credit courses, either on campus on at the high schools. Whether or not they taught the courses, community college faculty were responsible for developing appropriate course outlines, selecting textbooks, and sometimes spending time training dual credit teachers, who were most often high school teachers. One community college faculty noted that at least initially there was a significant time investment demanded of him with no additional compensation. Even after programs were established, some faculty were, and still are, required to assist dual credit faculty, as was I. This can be a burden on already overworked faculty who teach fifteen credit hours per semester, advise as many as 50-100 students, serve on committees, sponsor student clubs and activities, and participate in professional development activities.

Not only are some community college faculty forced to participate but so are high school faculty. In some cases, because of the accreditation criteria for faculty selection, it is not unusual (particularly in small rural schools) that there is only one faculty member per discipline certified to teach dual credit courses. He or she is usually assigned to do so, regardless of willingness to teach the course. In one case, a high school principal essentially mandated that a high school teacher obtain a master's degree to be able to teach dual credit courses even though the teacher had no desire to do that. Additionally, some high school administrators further impose policy on faculty through decisions about scheduling dual credit courses. This was the situation when the dual credit English teacher I was working with expressed concern about the move to block scheduling. The principal ignored the issue. When the teacher looked to the community college for support, the college responded by saying such a move was no different than community colleges offerings during summer school. However, both dual credit and community college faculty argued that there was a difference, noting that students taking regular summer school courses had already completed high school courses, whereas dual credit students had not and might not be ready for such accelerated study.

Another concern about dual credit courses centers on the physical settings of such courses. Only a small number of courses are generally offered on the community college campus. More often, dual credit courses are taught in the high school setting. Dr. DiCroce, along with other community college faculty, pointed out that some four-year colleges and universities question if the high school setting can provide an environment equivalent to that of a classroom on a college campus. Critics of the high school setting note that high school class time is often interrupted with announcements and other extra-curricular activities. Also, dual credit students do not have the same opportunities to interact with the wider range of peers that they might if they took the "regular" college courses on campus. This issue of setting and its effect on the comparable quality of dual credit courses has prompted questions about the transferability of dual credit course work to four-year institutions, particularly to the University of Virginia which refuses to accept dual credit courses for transfer credit in most programs (although UVA will accept some dual credit courses for elective credit in some programs). Many private and out-of-state institutions do not accept dual credit courses at all.

Conclusions

After researching the history of the Virginia Plan for Dual Enrollment, as well as reviewing related literature on other dual credit programs and high school/college partnerships, I believe the need exists for more in-depth study and analysis of the program. The Virginia Plan for Dual Enrollment is based on sound rationale and does provide benefits to students, parents, high schools, and community colleges. However, if quality is to be assured in the dual credit program, several issues of concern need to be addressed.


Works Consulted

Barnes, Ed. President, New River Community College. Personal interview. 15 Oct.1997.

Bickel, Robert. "Student Acceleration: Redefining an Educational Reform." ERS Spectrum Vol. IV, No. 2, Spring 1986. 14-21.

Capps, John. Division Chair, Virginia Western Community College. Personal interview. 18 March 1997.

Daly, William T., ed. College-School Collaboration: Appraising the Major Approaches. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1985.

DiCroce, Deborah. President, Piedmont Virginia Community College. Personal interview. 7 Nov. 1997.

Finley, Donald. Former Secretary of Education, Commonwealth of Virginia. Personal interview. 20 Oct. 1997.

Flythe, Fran. "Study of Dual Credit in the VCCS." Virginia Community College System Research Report Series. Fall 1993.

Greenberg, Arthur R. High School-College Partnerships: Conceptual Models, Programs, and Issues. Washington, D.C.: George Washington University, 1991.

Hockaday, Jeff. Former Chancellor, Virginia Community College System. Personal letter. 20 Nov. 1997.

Hull, Dan and Dale Parnell. Tech Prep Associate Degree: A Win/Win Experience. Waco, TX: Center for Occupational Research and Development, 1991.

Johnson, David. Coordinator of Dual Credit, Wytheville Community College. Personal interview. 28 Feb. 1997.

Jones, Dan. Division Chair, Wytheville Community College. Personal interview. 18 Feb. 1997.

Mabry, Theo. "The High School/Community College Connection: An ERIC Review." Community College Review Vol. 16, No. 3. 48-53.

"Report of the Committee on Dual Enrollment Fees (HJR 562)." Virginia Community College System. 1 Oct. 1997.

Snyder, William F. President, Wytheville Community College. Personal interview. 26 Feb. 1997.

Suarez, Terence. Dean of Instruction and Student Services, Wytheville Community College. Personal interview. 3 Nov. 1997.

Swartz, Ned. Associate Dean, John Tyler Community College. Personal interview. 21 Nov. 1997.

* I conducted formal and informal interviews with full-time community college faculty, dual credit faculty, and high school administrators, but because some individuals requested to remain anonymous, I am choosing to keep these participants anonymous.


Rhonda K. Catron is Assistant Professor of English at Wytheville Community College and is currently a doctoral student at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State Univeristy. She is tentatively planning to complete her dissertation on dual credit English.