High schoolers in my college class?

By Emily Steinhardt

Jake Schaffer, a 17-year-old from Drexel Hill, graduated from Upper Darby High School a semester early and is majoring in journalism at DCCC. He is also a student in the dual enrollment program at DCCC.

“I thought I would be treated differently, being a high school student and all,” said Schaffer, who has been at the college for two semesters.

Happily for him, that was not the case.

“Upper Darby offered [dual enrollment] to students who seemed to be doing well in school,” Schaffer said. “I looked into it and figured they encouraged it, so why not do it? My first semester here I took one course on top of my full high school load.”

Schaffer is one of 800 students participating in the dual enrollment program at the college.

According to Patricia Shannon, Director of Dual Enrollment & High School Initiatives at Delaware County Community College, the dual enrollment program has been with the college since it opened.

“At the time we only admitted juniors and seniors,” Shannon said. “They would have to apply and take the placement test like everyone else, and if they were accepted, they could take classes here.”

Shannon stated that in 2006 the state of Pennsylvania made grant funding available to high schools for their students participating in dual enrollment programs. This funding caused a boom in enrollment.

When the grant funding was cut in 2012, the number of students enrolling plummeted.

In 2013, a discount was implemented by the school for dual enrollment students since they are not eligible for financial aid, according to Shannon.

“When that began, the word spread,” Shannon said. “High schools began to participate more, and the numbers started to grow again.”

DCCC now has students from 30 local high schools, and 120 home school students participating in its dual enrollment program.

Dual enrollment isn’t unique to DCCC, however.

Nationally, dual enrollment has been around for years. According to EducationNext, a Harvard University run website, universities and private colleges have long accepted gifted students and ambitious high schoolers in a variety of arrangements. In 1985, Minnesota was the first state to use dual enrollment as a way to prepare even average students for college and to move nonacademic-minded kids into career and technical education.

Dually enrolled students also use the program as a way to fulfill general education credits without breaking the bank.

“The cost of a college education has become astronomical,” Shannon said. “We are a community college that is here to give everyone in the community the opportunity for an affordable education.”

Research done by the U.S. Department of Education suggests that participation in dual enrollment can result in better grades in high school, increased enrollment in college following high school, higher rates of persistence in college, greater credit accumulation, and increased rates of credential attainment.

Shannon agrees, stating that through her own research she has found data that shows dual enrollment students are significantly more successful in completing college.

“They’re a lot less afraid of college,” Shannon said. “You go through high school all worried about college, and then you are just thrown into the college environment, and you have to figure it all out.”

Dual enrollment students get the opportunity to acclimate to college classes before being immersed in the whole college experience. By the time they leave for a four-year institution, they already know how to read a syllabus and manage their time and a college schedule, according to Shannon.

Schaffer echoed these statements, saying that dual enrollment has boosted his study habits and behavior to a college level.

“You have a lot more freedom [in college] to do your work on your own time,” Schaffer said. “So you have to learn to be more responsible. You’re not going to have a teacher there to always remind you of when work is due.”

Schaffer concluded by saying if a student wants to take control of his high school and college career, dual enrollment is the way to go.

“I would recommend [the program] to any high school student,” Schaffer said. “It helped me realize college isn’t as scary as you think.”

Contact Emily Steinhardt at communitarian@mail.dccc.edu