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The Santa Barbara Unified School District and Santa Barbara City College recently received over half a million dollars in state grants to expand their dual-enrollment program. The funds will go toward professional development for instructors and counselors, community outreach events, and infrastructural updates, all in hopes of increasing the number and expanding the demographics of the high school students who participate in the program and subsequently enroll at the two-year college.

Sonya Christian, chancellor of the California Community Colleges system, described such investments as “critical,” especially as college administrators across the state work toward a goal set by the governor in his 2022–23 budget proposal of ensuring 70 percent of working-age Californians have completed a postsecondary degree or certificate by 2030.

The number of students taking advantage of dual enrollment has grown slowly since California lawmakers adopted a new, more structured framework for dual enrollment in 2015. The new program, College and Career Access Pathways, was designed to expand dual-enrollment opportunities “for students who may not already be college bound” by removing “fiscal” and “policy barriers.” But eight years later, only 6 percent of high school freshmen and 14 percent of seniors participated in dual-enrollment programs, Christian noted.

“We’ve got to start young,” she said. “When you’re looking at it from an equity lens … college needs to be a real opportunity for every high school student.”

Christian said although the new framework for the dual-enrollment program has been in in place since 2015, “I think the systems’ development and the implementation at scale is taking root now with urgency.”

California isn’t the only state doubling down on dual enrollment. While some community colleges across the country are starting to see modest enrollment growth, few have fully recovered from the steep decline experienced during the pandemic. Dual-enrollment programs offer colleges a new and consistent source of students who are more likely to enroll at the institutions where they are taking their college-level courses.

According to the Community College Research Center at Columbia University’s Teachers College, dual-enrollment students under age 18 were the only demographic at two-year public institutions that didn’t decline in enrollment during the pandemic. Their numbers rose by 1 percent, or 10,674 students, from 2019 to 2021, which is much slower than the 19 percent growth of about 165,000 students from 2017 to 2019.

“To some extent, that’s sort of explaining why overall enrollments haven’t continued to decline,” John Fink, a senior research associate at CCRC, said. “It’s because they’ve had that continued growth among the high school population.”

In addition to helping grow student rolls, dual-enrollment programs are also expanding access to college, which public school administrators, college officials and higher education researchers see as a “win-win.”

“You have this increasing importance of the high school dual-enrollment population for community colleges, as they now comprise about one in five community college students,” said Fink. “What it means for college leaders is to really think about how to strategically use their partnerships with high schools to broaden access to college for their communities, but also to offer dual enrollment with a purpose.”

‘Opportunity to Access’

Santa Barbara City College and K-12 officials hosted an event earlier this month to solidify their partnership and bring together high school teachers and college staff for professional development.

Similar meetings had occurred in the past, but they weren’t “as big” or “as intentional,” said Angelica Contreras, the interim director of admissions and records at SBCC. This time, with grant funding, the goal was to ensure “that the high school instructors really feel supported and know that they have somebody to refer to if they have questions about curriculum, evaluations and student learning outcomes.”

Julissa Garcia, coordinator of college and career readiness at Santa Barbara Unified School District, said, “The ability for us to take our district counselors and teachers to some of these learnings and gain best practices and some of that knowledge at other sites is going to be really valuable.”

The grant will also be used to help bridge pre-existing gaps in infrastructure by funding the development of a student portal called “”

“One of the big challenges we’ve had in the dual-enrollment space is helping guide students through two different educational institutions to go through the steps of enrollment,” Garcia said. “Being able to guide students … is really key.”

Previously, only students and the college had access to the students’ enrollment information. The students were solely responsible for knowing which college course to select and ensuring that they were formally registered at the college. The new data management platform will give parents, high school teachers, counselors and college staff access to individual students’ information and ensure better dissemination of information and a higher likelihood that students complete the necessary steps to get college credit.

Kylie Campbell, associate dean of dual enrollment at Mt. San Antonio College and president of the California Alliance of Dual Enrollment Partnerships, said the increased focus on high schools offering college credit courses “all comes down to equity.” Dual enrollment can potentially get students from underrepresented groups thinking about college earlier and give them a more seamless and affordable path to a certificate or degree.

That’s the goal of the Santa Barbara City College program. Latino students made up 57 percent of the Santa Barbara Unified District’s high school population in the 2021–22 academic year, but they were only 19 percent of dual enrollees, according to data from the California Department of Education. White students made up 33 percent of students over all and nearly 30 percent of dual enrollees.

Contreras said the goal is to close “that gap as much as possible.” College officials want to increase the overall number of dual-enrollment students who matriculate to SBCC after they graduate from high school by 5 percent over the next three years.

“If you dig deeper into that, it doesn’t come down to the students not wanting to, but it’s the students not having the access to participate,” Campbell said. “They don’t have the same opportunity to access dual enrollment. So the focus and the doubling down from the community college with our high school partners is to … make sure that our students and parents are aware that there’s opportunities.”

A Worthwhile Investment

Miami Dade College and Miami-Dade County Public Schools in Florida are also expanding their dual-enrollment offerings by establishing a professional pathway program to help students prepare for teaching careers and create a pipeline to address local teacher shortages.

The dual-enrollment program is offered at 51 of the school district’s 128 high schools and will allow students to earn college credit specifically geared toward education degrees.

“It is a very much coordinated path of dual enrollment,” said Madeline Pumariega, president of the college. “Students have a structured curriculum that leads them to that associate of teaching so that they can accelerate, get that bachelor’s and be able to go into the classroom.”

The college’s dual-enrollment population was already growing with about 6,000 students enrolled in 2022–23, up by 35 percent from the year before, according to Pumariega. She projects double-digit growth again this coming academic year and expects about 5 to 7 percent of that growth will directly result from the new Teaching Academy Dual Enrollment Program.

Overall enrollment at Miami Dade was at 47,245 students in the fall of 2022, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

“When we see some of those enrollment cliffs, it’s due to many students leaving high school and going directly to work,” she said. “Now they have a potential to leave high school with some college, and we know that the earnings for individuals, even with some college, are much higher than those with no college.”

Fink, of the Community College Research Center, said Miami Dade College’s specialized program is a more targeted way to recruit students.

“The college is really trying to be more intentional about its dual enrollment,” Fink said. “This isn’t just any college course. This is the start of your associate’s degree or your bachelor’s degree.

“It’s a big motivation that takes time and investment. But what we’re hearing is that colleges find that investment worthwhile."

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