By: Nathaniel McCloud
A change in policy regarding dual enrollment at local colleges has led to a 150 percent increase in the number of college courses taken by EAHS students. The administration is characterizing the move as a victory for student choice, while some teachers attribute the change to the decrease in Advanced Placement and Honors class enrollment. Mr. Safford is concerned that “in a couple of years, we will not have AP” in the Social Studies department.
Advanced Placement classes, often referred to as AP classes, are year-long courses taught at the college level, following the College Board Advanced Placement program. Students are taught from a curriculum approved by the College Board and tested with an exam at the end of the school year. Passing the exam can qualify students for credit at many colleges. Another option for advanced classes is dual enrollment. Dual enrollment is a program that allows high school students to take college courses and receive credit at both institutions. Both types of courses receive 1.2 weighting from the school for weighted grade point average.
The counseling department changed policy regarding dual enrollment courses for the 2017-2018 school year. Core classes, the required credits in the Math, Science, English, and Social Studies departments, can now be fulfilled as college courses. Exceptions were previously granted only where scheduling conflicts prevented students from meeting requirements.
Enrollment has skyrocketed from equivalent numbers last fall – there were just 43 dual enrollment classes first semester and 90 for the entire 2016-2017 school year. The 2017 fall semester alone has 104 students enrolled in dual enrollment courses.
Online HACC courses make up the majority of the courses, according to the counseling department. Few students attend class in person.
EAHS Principal Mrs. Hobson said that administration is “looking out for the needs of individual students” and suggested that the increased interest in college courses was helping students advance in areas of interest. Additionally, Hobson said the school has “no interest in promoting dual enrollment over AP classes.”
This claim is backlit by the 2015-2016 school district report, which sets the goal of 10 percent of juniors and seniors in dual enrollment classes. As of the 2014-2015 school year, just two percent were enrolled.
Teachers with AP courses are concerned about the effect that these changes will have on enrollment. Ms. Bradley, who teaches the Senior courses Honors English 12 and AP English Literature, was one of the hardest hit. “I lost about one-third of the students from my Honors and AP classes” over summer break, she said. Students enroll in classes before the end of the previous school year, but have the opportunity to readjust their schedule before an August deadline. While a few may have dropped the course due to summer reading, Bradley was told by the counseling department that several dropped her class for an online HACC course and that students were being encouraged to consider options outside of the school. She is left with just 15 AP students and 11 Honors students, down from 19 AP students and over 50 Honors students last year. Ms. Bradley clarified that her opposition is not to dual enrollment, but in allowing students to substitute college courses for those offered in the building.
The Social Studies department has seen similar drops in enrollment. Over summer break, Mr. Sostack’s AP Government and Politics course dropped from 12 students to 4 students, and Mr. Safford’s AP United States History went from 30 to 22. Enrollment is down drastically in the Government course, 21 students down from 2016-2017 and 10 from 2015-2016. Mr. Safford was told explicitly that several students dropped AP U.S. History over the summer for dual enrollment. His class has seen a jump in enrollment, despite students dropping his course.
Both Bradley and Safford assume money to be “a big factor for the district” in the push for dual enrollment. Safford also expects that “in a couple of years, we will not have AP here, at least in the history department,” predicting even more efforts in dual enrollment and other changes the administration is considering, like eliminating class rank and weighting of classes.
Safford recognized the School Performance Profile, a state-assessment number, as an issue: “[D]ual enrollment courses count the same as AP’s.” Dual enrollment credits cost nothing for the school, while AP classes require teachers, textbooks, training, exams, and other classroom costs.
Bradley and Safford expressed concern with the rigor of a college course. “Where is the rigor there? Where is the accountability? What are these kids reading?” asked Bradley. Safford said that “frankly, these introductory history courses are not as challenging as AP US History.”
Not all teachers view these changes negatively. Mr. Spiegel, who teaches history, is warm to the change, saying that “it is good that the school is giving students choice and allowing them to pick what is best.” He noted that as an AP student in high school, he was frustrated by having AP credits rejected at the college level, when the freshman level courses that he took were easier than AP courses.
Many students prefer the workload of college classes. Maya Hollinger (11) said that her online Business 101 course, through HACC, was “20 minutes of work a week” and that “all of the tests are out of the textbook.”
There are other benefits to dual enrollment besides less rigorous coursework: schedule flexibility is also appealing. Seniors can even use senior-off-campus to leave school. Charles Scharf (12) attends just one class on B-days. Guaranteed credit acceptance, as opposed to confusing AP acceptance policies is another benefit. The absence of the AP exam altogether can be a motivator for some students.
Colleges also offer electives that aren’t offered at the high school. Ryan Dennehy (12) took Intro to Cinema at Elizabethtown College. He said that the “extra time allowed us to really watch and discuss the film in depth, something that we can’t really do in 80 minute blocks” and that one advantage of the college was getting “to learn from an expert in the field. The professor had written his dissertation on a specific genre of film that we looked at.”
The ongoing debate shows differences of opinion in how to best fulfill the needs of students, though all parties certainly are working with the student in mind.