“What it is like to be a college student”: Taking a closer look at dual enrollment

Patricia Martin

It was fall quarter, 2013. I was a petrified 18-year old sitting in an almost full lecture hall with the capacity to seat 860 students. I could feel the lump in my throat growing as I tried to control my breathing and nerves before taking my first college midterm exam. Days after the midterm I nervously went online to check my results—complete devastation. How could this be? I attended every lecture and section, completed every assignment, viewed all the dreadfully long homework videos, and studied for days. Did the admissions committee make a mistake in admitting me? Was I going to fail out of college?

As a first-generation college student from California’s Central Valley, my story mirrors the experience of many underrepresented students across the country who struggle in their transition to higher education. Fortunately for me, I was able to seek campus resources and improve my grades—others unfortunately are pushed out of higher education. How can we build better networks of support for students to successfully matriculate into postsecondary education? Dual/Concurrent Enrollment could be a start.

This summer I had the pleasure of working with senior policy analyst at ACT Dr. Gregory Kienzl, on laying the groundwork for a statewide dual enrollment awareness campaign. My role in this project was to gain a deeper perspective of dual/concurrent enrollment and its direct impact on students and teachers. I spoke to California residents: five high school students, two college students, a high school concurrent enrollment teacher, a community college faculty, and California assemblywoman representing the 37th district—Monique Limón. They shared their experiences with dual/concurrent enrollment—the good, the bad, and everything in between.

Who wouldn’t want to earn college credit while saving money for college? One version of this program—concurrent enrollment— allows students to take college level courses taught by qualified high school teachers/college faculty at their high school, while the other—dual enrollment—allows students to take courses at a postsecondary institution. While this program has the potential to be a conduit for college readiness, many unfortunately do not know it exists. *Susie, an incoming fourth-year college student I spoke with, said, “They don’t know about it [dual enrollment]. My friends did not know about it until I mentioned it to them…I feel like every student should be informed, whether they are very intelligent or whether they’re not there yet…”

Along with not knowing this program exists, two students from the Central Coast spoke about the stressful process of registering for classes, “How complicated it is to sign up, really limits who is able to take the class,” and “I think it can be a difficult and competitive process that can be overwhelming,” they said. The misinformation, or rather lack of information, about this program limits who is able to enroll in these courses.

Despite the flaws, some students and teachers talked about the benefits of dual enrollment such as their newfound college identity and confidence. “Because before I was like ‘college is going to be so difficult,’ but that gave me a little more confidence like ‘oh I can do this,’” said *Ryan an incoming high school senior from Southern California. *Marisol, an incoming senior from the Central Valley echoed his statement, “I guess just feeling accomplished that I am doing it. I am actually passing the class and everything.” Melinda Gandara, a faculty member at Santa Barbara City College adds, “I think it is absolutely important for students to feel ready for the college experience, to have it while in high school, and to ensure the fact that they are able to handle the curriculum as they move forward in their educational pipeline.”

This program has historically attracted high achieving students, but must try to imagine what this program may do for those not at the top of their class or those who might be on the fence about attending college. Dual/concurrent enrollment has the potential of reshaping networks of communication for both K-12 and postsecondary institutions, creating a smoother process for college-going students. In the next several months, ACT is looking for ways to promote dual enrollment awareness in a variety of ways. Getting students to participate in dual enrollment is crucial, but equally important is bringing awareness about dual enrollment to students and informing them it is an option if they decide to participate.

* Some interview participants were given pseudonyms to protect their identities

Patricia Martin is a first year doctoral candidate at UCLA in the Higher Education and Organization Change (HEOC) division. Her research interests include the transition from high school to college and ways in which institutional policies and practices grant or impede access to college for underrepresented students. She is also interested in the academic success, retention, and sense of belonging for underrepresented students in postsecondary institutions.