The state is debating how to curtail dual enrollment, which has become a very popular  and costly program with high school students taking classes at both public and private colleges.

Opinion: Eliminating private colleges from dual enrollment would hurt students

Susanna L. Baxter is president of the Georgia Independent College Association. GICA is a non-profit association serving 24 of the not-for-profit, private colleges in Georgia. 

In this piece, Baxter responds to concerns about how much Georgia is paying for high school students to dual enroll at private colleges. 

A bill in the General Assembly seeks to tamp down on the soaring cost of dual enrollment, which, left unchanged, could approach $144 million next year.

Enrollment has nearly doubled in a recent four-year stretch, from about 27,000 students in fiscal year 2016 to nearly 52,000 students in fiscal year 2019. House Bill 444 limits which high school students can dual enroll and how many courses they can take in an effort to reduce annual costs of the program to around $100 million. Another option that has been suggested is restricting dual enrollment to public campuses.

Baxter says eliminating private colleges would be a mistake and hurt students who are not near public campuses. 

By Susanna L. Baxter 

Georgia’s higher education marketplace is made even stronger and more vibrant because of the diversity and availability of sectors and colleges – the University System, the Technical College System, and the not-for-profit private colleges. Whether students are traditional newly-minted high school graduates, adults returning to complete college, or dual enrollment learners, they benefit from the choice and location of dozens of public and private colleges and universities in our state.

Much has been stated recently about private colleges partnering with the state to provide dual enrollment credit through the state’s dual enrollment program. Unfortunately, some of what has been stated paints an incomplete picture. 

Some have suggested the General Assembly pass legislation that restricts student participation in the popular dual enrollment program to only public colleges. This, they say, would save taxpayers millions in tuition dollars for high school students who choose to take courses at a not-for-profit private college.

But the facts about the cost of dual enrollment show that what the state pays per hour of college instruction for a student at an independent college is less than or about equal to what is paid for an hour of instruction at a public institution. Under dual enrollment, the state pays $250 per credit hour for high school students who take courses at a participating private college. 

If that student had chosen to take courses at a technical college or University System institution, the state would not only pay the tuition rate charged by the institution but also the amount institutions receive from the state under the state’s own funding formula.

In addition to tuition cost savings, the state enjoys an additional substantial benefit for including independent colleges in dual enrollment – geographic diversity and availability. 

Many of Georgia’s private colleges are located in rural areas of the state. These institutions play a vital role in helping local public school systems fill instructional needs, especially for courses in foreign language, STEM, and higher mathematics.

In locations where it is very difficult for public high schools to hire qualified teachers to teach courses like calculus, foreign language, or AP courses, private colleges have helped fill those needs. For decades, private colleges sent faculty to these rural high schools to provide professors qualified to teach AP or other specialized courses. Private colleges did this because they are partners in their communities. Often, the private college is the only institution offering on-the-ground dual enrollment in a town or county.

Not-for-profit private colleges serve the public good. Located throughout the state and particularly in rural areas, they serve more than 72,000 students. The majority of students attending Georgia’s not-for-profit, private colleges are non-white and 42% receive the federal Pell grant, a need-based aid grant. 

Dr. Susanna L. Baxter

During the most recent year in which there is data, more than $134 million was distributed in institutional grant aid – that means the colleges raised money for student tuition aid to help make college affordable.

Graduates of Georgia’s private colleges fill critical workforce needs. Twenty percent of last year’s graduates majored in a health profession. Georgia’s private colleges have seen a 19% increase in STEM graduates over the past five years. Private college graduates work across the state to take care of the sick, run businesses, work in the film industry, and teach our children among many other in demand professions.

Narrowing options for students wanting to take dual enrollment by removing private, not-for-profit colleges from the program will limit student choice and drive-up cost to taxpayers. 

Rather, the state House should agree to a state Senate substitute to House Bill 444 that more clearly defines the purpose and goals of the state’s popular and successful dual enrollment program. This compromise legislation seeks to create a more streamlined, affordable program that is inclusive of students throughout the state who want broad choices of and access to colleges that best suit that student’s higher education goals and career plans.

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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.