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Is Dual Enrollment Really Dual Enrollment?

By Laura Mallernee

There’s something misleading going on in our county high schools.  Some courses or classes calling themselves dual enrollment are being offered, but they do not seem to be true dual enrollment courses.  Some of them are simply junior college courses offered by Nashville State Community College (NSCC), but they are being labeled as “dual-enrollment.”  Let me explain.

The word dual, as you know, means two or double. To give you a bit of history of the dual enrollment program in Cheatham County, the dual enrollment classes actually began back in the 1990s.  Because I had my masters degree in my subject area, I was one of the first teachers in the county to teach dual enrollment courses, which I continued to teach until I was retired in 2010.

When NSCC first approached us about teaching their courses in our high schools, I had been teaching Advanced Placement English III and A.P. English IV.  In discussions with NSCC, teachers, counselors, and staff developed curricula that blended the subject matter of classes from both institutions. The students would continue to take advanced English III or IV, but the NSCC curriculum for Composition I or II would be added to the already existing high school course work.  (This was possible because high school students are in class longer than college students.  Our students were then in block-scheduled semesters and had 90 minutes in class five days a week, whereas NSCC students were only required to be in class for three hours a week for a semester.  Colleges expect students to do more work outside of class.)

Thus dual enrollment students could work extra hard, cover the material in both high school and college classes, and get credits for both the high school and college courses.  We saw that dual enrollment classes would work well into our high school block-scheduling and that they could be good choices for the students willing to work extra hard.  The students who took those dual enrollment courses and made the grade well deserved to get two credits—one for high school English and one for college English.  Thus some hard-working students were able to enter college their freshman year with several college course credits (or hours) on their transcripts, credits that transferred to most state universities.

Now what appears to be happening is that the teachers who teach the so-called dual enrollment courses either do not know that they are supposed to be teaching both the high school and the college level courses, or they are told to teach only the NSCC curriculum, perhaps due to changes in personnel and to misunderstandings of what exactly dual enrollment classes entail.

As an example of what I’m talking about, presently English III in our high schools is a survey of American literature, and English IV is a survey of British literature.  Because the freshman college English courses are primarily composition courses, those students who take the so-called dual enrollment English could miss out on studying these amazing bodies of literature their junior and senior years in high school.

Perhaps you may recall some of the authors and their works from your junior and senior years in high school—such as Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, Thornton Wilder’s Our Town, Whitman and Dickinson, Emerson and Thoreau, Masters and Frost, plus so many other fine American short story writers and novelists.  Then in Brit lit, there is Beowulf, Canterbury Tales, Shakespeare’s Macbeth and Hamlet, the classicists and the romantics, the moderns and the contemporaries.  Brit lit is the ancestor of our American lit.

Great literature teaches us about life, about ourselves and others, and about how to be better writers—far more than any composition course.  I still believe that it is right and good that in our country we have a common background of  literature that we have each been exposed to.  As adults many of us hear and read allusions to these works in our daily lives.  I do not believe that an American high school education is complete without studying American and British literature.  Thus in my mind, those who do not take the “dual enrollment” courses may be better educated than those who do because they will have been exposed to this great literature for two full years.

I’ve heard of another problem with dual enrollment courses:  we do not have enough teachers with the graduate hours in their subject areas to teach these courses.  Some perfectly good Cheatham County teachers may lose their jobs just to make room for those who have these grad hours, if these teachers can be found and are willing to teach here in Cheatham County.  Even worse, I’ve heard that some of our students are being sat in front of computers, taking the NSCC courses on-line, with no qualified teacher to assist them.  I do not believe that a computer course, especially for high school students, can substitute for having a live teacher in the classroom, nor is an on-line computer course from NSCC a dual enrollment course.  As I said in the beginning of this editorial, it is simply a course from a junior college, being touted as a dual enrollment course.

Financially, of course, both education systems, NSCC and Cheatham County, win when we fill these so-called dual enrollment classes up to capacity:   NST gets the thousands of dollars of student tuition for those who take their classes, and Cheatham County gets the thousands of dollars from the teachers’ salaries that NSCC pays to the teachers who teach these courses.   These teachers who teach for NSCC, though they work extra hard if they are truly teaching dual enrollment courses, are not allowed to accept their salaries from the college and these NSCC salaries go to the Cheatham County school system.

But in the long run, once again it is our students who are losing.  When they are not getting true dual enrollment courses, they do not get the quality of education that they deserve from us.

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