Dual enrollment allows Georgia high school students to take college courses for free while earning both high school and college credit.

OPINION: Is Legislature creating guardrails or derailing dual enrollment?

Lawmakers often seize on a word or phrase to promote a bill they’re trying to pass. With vouchers, the word was “bold,” as in bold new plan. 

In the current effort by GOP leadership to scale back Georgia’s growing dual enrollment program, the favored word is “guardrail.”  

Sen. Brian Strickland, R-McDonough, began his sales pitch for House Bill 444 today in the Senate by explaining, “We put guardrails on the program to save it for future generations to come.”

Dual enrollment allows Georgia high school students to take college courses for free while earning both high school and college credit.

If we were picky, we might point out the main impact of HB 444 is not to safeguard dual enrollment as suggested by guardrails, but to lessen its scope and reach. 

Facing the prospect of the popular program climbing to $140 million a year, Gov. Brian Kemp is seeking changes that would reduce the price to $100 million or so. Kemp’s tax cuts and promised $5,000 teacher raises have proven expensive commitments. 

“It is a cost-cutting action that the governor and Legislature are proposing to make up for a state revenue shortfall,” said state Sen. Nan Orrock, D-Atlanta.

The shortfall was spurred, she said, by “the governor’s decision to cut taxes for the highest earners last year. This is of our own making.”

Strickland avoided any discussion of what predicated the pressing need to slash dual enrollment costs, touting instead the fact that, despite the new caps, the program would remain accessible.

“With House Bill 444,” he said, “we are ensuring the very successful dual enrollment program in our state is preserved for every student, not matter their zip code, the involvement they have at home, or even what they get on the SAT or the ACT. “

The bill passed the Senate and goes now to the House to weigh whether Georgia ought to constrict which high school students can take dual enrollment classes and how many.

HB 444 limits dual enrollment in colleges to 11th and 12th graders and to 10th, 11th and 12th graders in the Technical College System of Georgia.  

It confines students to core courses, which means math, science, English, foreign language and social studies. 

The cap at 30 credit hours impacts only a handful of students, said Strickland, noting the average dual enrollment participant finishes high school with 17 hours.  

He said only 1,688 high schoolers out the 51,928 in dual enrollment classes would be impacted by the 30-hour cap. 

(I have been hearing from some of those parents, whose high school kids essentially are now in college full-time and thus surpassing the 30-hour cap. They are not happy about the proposed changes.) 

The problem with HB 444 is that Georgia doesn’t know enough about what works and what doesn’t in dual enrollment. For example, a big cost driver comes from students taking courses at private colleges. Yet, there is no effort in the bill to address that.

As a recent evaluation of dual enrollment by the Georgia Budget & Policy Institute found:

State spending on Dual Enrollment in private colleges grew 224 percent between FY 2016 and FY 2019, compared to 108 percent for technical colleges and 67 percent for the university system. Private colleges get the highest average payment from the state of $3,103 per student, compared to $1,297 for technical colleges and $2,358 for the university system. 

Since FY 2016, Dual Enrollment participation in the university system grew by 5,194 students, and by 6,548 students in private colleges.

To its credit, the bill does articulate a purpose behind dual enrollment, which could help the state set measures of its success:

The purpose of the Dual Enrollment program is to promote and increase access to postsecondary educational opportunities for Georgia high school students while increasing high school graduation rates, preparing a skilled workforce, and decreasing time and cost to postsecondary credential completion.

The GBPI offers several recommendations that lawmakers ought to consider before remaking dual enrollment, starting with this:

Policymakers lack critical information on Georgia’s Dual Enrollment students. The state should regularly collect and report data on participation rates among student groups by race/ethnicity, gender, economic status and geography and set targets for participation of underrepresented students.

It should collect and report data on high school and college enrollment and graduation rates and time to degree and analyze how these outcomes vary with number of credit hours taken. 

Finally, the state should also analyze common factors in dropped, withdrawn and failed courses, including course and student characteristics.

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.

About the Author

Maureen Downey
Maureen Downey
Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.