Like many schools in our country, my public high school in southern New Hampshire seeks to offer a wide-range of college credit-earning opportunities for our students. These schools recognize that providing high school students with an opportunity to experience early college success can positively impact the overall achievement rate of students when they finally get to the college level.

For the past two decades or more, the most popular way to provide such opportunities was through the College Board's Advanced Placement (AP) program. In the last several years, for a variety of reasons, AP has come under criticism for limitations it places on students and schools.

Two years ago, in a MultiBriefs Exclusive article, I asked, will changes to AP courses save them from becoming obsolete? In that article, I discussed some of the limitations and shortcomings of the current AP system — from the superficial and mechanical traditional AP exam that was not a good measure of critical thinking and problem solving to the declining significance that an AP course often plays on student transcripts in the eyes of college admissions officers.

"With the apparent shortcomings of the current AP program, many high schools have started to foster other college-credit opportunities for their students," I wrote. "These involve overhauling their own high school courses to allow teachers to better develop the rigorous college readiness skills and developing dual-credit partnerships and agreements with colleges and universities that are unique for their schools."

Dual enrollment — sometimes referred to as concurrent enrollment — is an agreement that is reached between a high school and a college or university that allows a high school teacher to teach a college-level course to students who can receive credit at both the high school and college level.

At my New Hampshire school, for example, we have dual enrollment partnerships with Northern Essex Community College in Haverhill, Massachusetts, Great Bay Community College in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and Southern New Hampshire University in Manchester, New Hampshire. In the 2016-2017 school year our 665-student school offered over a dozen dual enrollment course options, compared with just seven AP courses.

According to the National Alliance of Concurrent Enrollment Partnerships (NACEP), dual enrollment programs offer a viable alternative to exam-driven programs such as AP for the following reasons:

  • enrollment courses are actual credit-bearing college courses
  • concurrent enrollment students earn a college grade based on multiple and varied assessments throughout a course, not just from one high-stakes test
  • concurrent enrollment students earn transcripted college credit at the time they successfully pass the course, not retroactively for prior learning

According to a survey reported on by Education Week's Catherine Gewertz, dual enrollment is proving to be good not only for students, but also for colleges in general. Many colleges have reported that dual enrollment plays an important role in the marketing and recruitment for the school.

One official who responded to the survey stated, "We have found that a number of dual enrolled students fall in love with the campus and then matriculate as freshmen, so it is a great recruiting tool." Another official explained how the program bridges a gap between colleges and secondary schools, particularly with minority populations: "As an emerging [Hispanic-serving institution], a strong dual enrollment program can help both our feeder district with increasing graduation rates and help increase the Latino population on campus to better reflect our surrounding community."

Perhaps the greatest feedback from the survey was the notion that dual enrollment programs make college a real possibility, particularly for students who hadn’t considered themselves to be ready to be successful at the college level.

"Although many dual-enrollment students expect to go to college, quite a few have never considered college as an option," said Renee Tastad, dean of enrollment at Holyoke Community College in Western Massachusetts. "This program enables them to realize that college is a very real possibility."

Dual enrollment programs are proving to be a rising trend in schools across our country that seek to better prepare all students with the tools, the knowledge and most importantly the skills to be successful in college and beyond.