State officials pitched a plan Thursday to plug a potential $25 million budget gap in Georgia’s popular, but increasingly expensive, dual enrollment program by not paying for books and fees for the upcoming school year.
The budget for the upcoming fiscal year, which starts July 1, is about $100 million. Georgia Student Finance Commission officials estimate program costs will be about $125 million. The commission’s president, Caylee Noggle, said its leaders explored temporary solutions with other state officials and came up with this idea.
“That single action will cover most of the budget shortfall,” Noggle told board members at a meeting Thursday. Colleges and universities will likely be responsible for funding those fees and books, although Noggle noted many institutions offer online classes, which may help cut costs.
Enrollment in the program, which allows high school students to take college courses and earn credits for completing the classes, has skyrocketed in recent years, from about 11,484 during fiscal year 2013 to 35,862 in fiscal year 2017, according to a report last year by the state’s Department of Audits and Accounts. The fiscal 2018 total was 43,639 students, officials said Thursday.
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Georgia Independent College Association leaders, which represent many private colleges and universities that offer dual enrollment courses, attended Thursday’s meeting and said afterward they wanted to see more budget information the commission plans to release in the coming days before commenting on the dual enrollment proposal.
A vote on the proposal is scheduled for Friday. Board member Tom Bowen supported the idea, telling his colleagues, “I think it’s a good, interim step.”
If the proposal is approved, the commission will send a letter to the colleges and universities that offer dual enrollment courses explaining the plan and include more details.
To keep up with the booming participation, the dual enrollment budget has increased by similar levels to keep up. The 2018 report found state funding for tuition, fees and books increased from $18.5 million in fiscal year 2014 to $78.8 million in fiscal year 2018. The state increased the program’s funding midyear in some recent budgets. The current budget, which ends June 30, is about $105 million.
The 2018 state report, requested by state lawmakers, urged leaders to better define the mission of dual enrollment and monitor its operations with greater scrutiny.
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“(I)t is unclear if the program is intended to decrease the students’ time for completing a degree, increase the percentage of students enrolling in post secondary institutions after high school graduation, increase degree attainment rates or to achieve some similar purpose,” the auditors wrote.
Noggle said various proposals floated by state leaders this year included allowing only 11th and 12th graders to take dual enrollment courses and lowering the amount of money the state pays to private colleges to administer courses from $250 an hour to $158 an hour. Those changes, she said, would not have made a significant difference in program costs.
“We needed to do something to try to curb some of the growth and the costs and where it could be headed,” Noggle said of those discussions.
State lawmakers proposed legislation in late February to act on some findings in the 2018 report. The proposals would have required students to maintain various grade-point averages to take some dual enrollment classes and limited their hours of coursework. The legislation, House Bill 444, did not get a vote in the state Senate.
Georgia Budget & Policy Institute higher education policy analyst Jennifer Lee attended Thursday’s meeting and said she was pleased the commission’s proposal will maintain current access for students.
Lee hopes there’s more discussion about the program and its impact on student outcomes. She noted many high school students use dual enrollment as a way to earn college credits to cut costs when they make it to college. Other states, she said, use dual enrollment as a tool to expose high school students of all academic levels to college.
“It’s a really flexible program, and in Georgia, we haven’t shaped it to the purpose of what we want it to be,” Lee said.