UPDATE Thursday at 1:22 p.m:
A bill limiting who can take dual enrollment classes, how many and which ones passed easily out of Senate Higher Ed Committee Thursday afternoon in a 7-2 vote.
This is just an initial step in the legislative process, but the bill is likely to pass the full General Assembly since it is coming from the governor.
Explaining her "no" vote to placing new limits on dual enrollment, Democratic Sen. Nan Orrock of Atlanta said, "Its success seems to condemn it to be capped. We should see the value in investing and not cutting and capping this program. The better part of wisdom would seem to make this program work without putting these barriers in."
The Senate Higher Education Committee expects to vote Thursday on much-debated curbs on the state’s exploding dual enrollment program.
Six years ago, dual enrollment cost taxpayers $23 million. The estimated price of the program for fiscal year 2021 is $140 million.
Such growth might be cause for celebration except Georgia has not evaluated whether dual enrollment is worth the mounting taxpayer investment. And the program’s rapid expansion has occurred with few checks.
Introduced and discussed last session, House Bill 444 sets out to impose limits and control. The Senate Higher Education Committee took up the bill today and will meet tomorrow to consider whether the changes make sense.
“Equally important to the idea that the dual enrollment program grew rapidly, it grew into something that was different than it was intended to be,” said the bill’s author and the governor’s floor leader state Rep. Bert Reeves, R-Marietta.
Some high school students are supplanting high school with dual enrollment, graduating and then almost earning a second degree paid for by the HOPE Scholarship, said Reeves.
“It was never designed to be a way you can essentially, on the dime of taxpayers, take all your high school courses in college, graduate and turn around and start working on another degree,” he said.
Reeves told the Senate committee the state has not seen dual enrollment participants graduating college earlier as a result of the credits earned in high school or putting less demand on HOPE, which has also been under financial strain.
In addition, some high school students are choosing college courses that are not being accepted by the universities, he said.
A recent report by the Georgia Budget & Policy Institute cited other problems, including:
There is a lack of public, accessible and regular data to evaluate the effectiveness of dual enrollment. Important data include how many students from lower-income backgrounds participate, high school graduation rates, college enrollment and graduation rates and whether students graduate college faster or at lower cost. This makes it difficult to evaluate effectiveness and change policies based on evidence.
Statewide, students earn As or Bs in more than 74% of dual enrollment courses. Georgia students also dropped 11% of courses and earned a D or F in 5%.
Georgia’s generous dual enrollment program pays the full cost of the college classes. At the same time, Georgia is only paying around 77% of those same college classes for HOPE Scholarship recipients who have to attain and maintain academic requirements.
That disparity troubles state Sen. Lindsey Tippins, chair of the Senate Higher Education Committee. “If I were those HOPE students in college, I would be asking why I am only being covered at 77%,” he said.
In explaining his support for an overhaul, Tippins said, “It is a program that needs more focus. It is not designed for the state to be paying full tuition for students who are floundering and hoping they can land on something that may be their vocation in life. This program was intended to accelerate students who know where they want to go and help them get there.”
Amid concerns that too many high schoolers were taking too many classes and not necessarily the right ones, including Zumba, Reeves said, “Reforms, guardrails and parameters to our dual enrollment program are needed to keep it sustainable.”
Among the restraints imposed on dual enrollment in HB 444:
Students can only take core courses as defined by the HOPE criteria, which includes math, English, science, social studies and foreign language. Within those areas, there are more than 2,000 core courses at the University System of Georgia level. Students can no longer take electives, fine arts or physical education on the taxpayers’ tab.
Students in Career, Technical, and Agricultural Education can take 4,000 courses within the career clusters.
There will be a ceiling of 30 credit hours paid for by taxpayers; parents can pay for additional college credits, if they choose.
The average Georgia student now in dual enrollment takes 17 credits, so the 30-credit ceiling is well above what many kids will need. The bill grandfathers in some high schools students already in dual enrollment to go beyond the 30.
The program would be limited to 11th and 12th graders. There are exceptions for students taking career-tech courses and for bright high school underclassmen who meet a high academic threshold.
What do you think?
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