A High-School Student Critiques Dual Enrollment

Placing 11th- and 12th-graders in community-college classes works only if the system is well-designed.

As a student in the North Carolina public-school system, I have seen the negative impact that badly designed dual-enrollment policies can have on students’ personal and professional development. Indeed, it is not always clear that the system is run for students’ benefit. As the Thomas B. Fordham Institute’s Chester Finn, Jr., remarked in 2021, “A lot of institutions that offer dual credit are doing it because they want enrollment—the butts in the seats and the state dollars” that come with them.

Dual enrollment in my county takes the form of high-school students registering for online, asynchronous classes offered by the local community college. These classes usually run for eight weeks and count both as college course credits and toward one’s high-school GPA. Dual-enrollment rates at community colleges nationally increased 16 percent between 2021 and 2023, perhaps due to the incentive of an inflated grade point average. Where I study, these classes are popular among students but also among my school’s administrators, who benefit from the appearance of a more successful student body.

Student preparedness for a traditional four-year institution is greatly diminished by dual-enrollment classes’ lack of rigor.Sadly, student preparedness for a traditional four-year institution after high school is greatly diminished by these classes’ lack of rigor. This is the case for several reasons. First, the curriculum for dual-credit courses is not uniform across the U.S., and the course guidelines vary across districts and states. Because of this, it is hard to compare dual-enrollment courses to standard AP classes, in which most students take a capstone standardized exam.

In Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools, for example, many classes have a reputation for being easy. A “public”-speaking class in the Forsyth Tech curriculum asks students to record themselves and recite speeches for only the teacher to view. Forsyth County recently established that a student must take three introductory English courses through a local community college to satisfy the requirement for one high-school English credit. This means, in effect, that my county has concluded that the difficulty of three dual-enrollment college classes equates to that of one high-school class.

Not only is the amount of learning debatable, but there is no face-to-face contact to hold students accountable for unethical actions. Giving high-school students the option of taking asynchronous online classes stimulates the temptation to cheat.

Finally, the discrepancy in environment between traditional high-school and dual-enrollment classes is especially harmful. Many of my friends who take these classes note a similar issue: the lack of feedback from, and connection with, their instructors, as well as the lack of camaraderie with classmates. Because of the classes’ asynchronous nature, none of my friends have any relationship with their teachers. The more dual-credit courses one takes, the fewer high-school classes remain, meaning that the amount of teacher-student connection is lessened considerably. This can be a lofty obstacle for students trying to attain college recommendations, particularly when compounded by the isolating nature of the pandemic.

Dual enrollment certainly has its place, provided its implementation is fair and appropriately rigorous. Unfortunately, as a student who has challenged myself to make the most out of my high-school opportunities, I find that dual enrollment offers less than it promises.

Celeste Summers is a high-school junior living in Winston-Salem.