From MOOCs to Dual Enrollment, HS’ers Getting Jump on College


A dual enrollment program enabled high school students to complete a combined 6,500 hours of college credit for the University of North Alabama and Northwest-Shoals Community College last year. Many students choose dual enrollment in view of its many advantages, which apart from being an inexpensive or free alternative to a traditional college education, is also a chance for students to get a distraction-free taste of higher education.

“When you look at the research nationwide, the freshman year of college is where so many students struggle,” Florence schools Superintendent Janet Womack said. “It is their first year away from home and their first experience where they don’t have someone watching over them every day.”

Students can enroll in this type of hybrid program beginning in ninth grade, and by the time they graduate they can accumulate a number of college credit or even earn enough credits to earn an associate’s degree.

For 2014-2015, eligible high school students took 2,048 credit hours from the University of North Alabama, making UNA the third top institution for credit production in the state, according to the Alabama Commission on Higher Education.

Northwest-Shoals ranked fourth among the community colleges offering credits to high schoolers with a total of 4,479 credit hours worth of classes.

UNA lets high schoolers take 100- and 200-level college courses, which are more often than not preparatory courses for advanced classes in the second and third years of college. Typically, students get three credit hours per class.

Alabama is not the only state with a growing focus on dual enrollment. For the 2015-2016 school year, a total of 90 early/middle college programs and schools in Michigan will offer dual enrollment options that combine high school and college classes, allowing students to get a jump-start on college. Five years earlier, the state of Michigan counted just eight such programs/schools across its school districts.

LeeAnna Brown, an Early College coordinator at UNA, explained the institution’s goal to transition more high school students into college through dual enrollment initiatives:

“We’d like to see those students make the seamless transition from Early College to being a first-year student at the university. By establishing these relationships early, it really is going to make the transition very easy for those students.”

Describing the importance of dual enrollment, Florence schools Superintendent Janet Womack said:

“We are letting them know what it looks like to study at that increased level of rigor, and carry a course load that increases their level of responsibility,” she said. “We’re helping them to develop those habits early while still being able to lean on the resources and support of high school.”

High schoolers are also turning to MOOCs as another pathway to college-level education. The New York Times featured the story of  Dan Akim, a junior who during his summer vacation enrolled in three online classes; precalculus, computer science and public health. Students like Akim consider MOOCs an opportunity to enrich their pool of skills with knowledge that their schools do not provide.

“We’ve noticed in the past few years, more and more students who apply to us mention they’ve taken online courses of various kinds,” Marlyn McGrath, director of admissions for Harvard College says according to the New York Times, pointing out the growing trend among teenagers.