High school students would have more access to community college classes under a bill that proponents say will expand chances for teenagers to take courses that put them on a path for success in college and careers.
“This is my favorite bill of the year,” Assemblywoman Kristin Olsen, R-Modesto, said Wednesday at an education committee hearing on Assembly Bill 1451. “It’s a game changer for our children who are seeking greater educational opportunities.”
State law already allows high school students to take community college classes under concurrent, or dual, enrollment agreements. But many of those courses are narrowly focused, allowing students to make up credits from a flunked course, for instance, or providing access to Advanced Placement or other classes that may not be offered at their high school.
AB 1451, authored by Chris Holden, D-Pasadena, is designed to widen the array of concurrent enrollment courses available to students and create a more streamlined way to blend the courses with what’s available at high schools. The bill – of which Olsen is a co-author – allows high schools and community colleges to enter into formal program partnerships. Such formalized agreements will help campuses better coordinate offerings and expand availability of academic and career technical courses that provide students with work experience, bill proponents said.
“You move away from ‘one-off’ course taking to developing something that’s more akin to a pathway” to college and career programs, said Vincent Stewart, vice chancellor for governmental relations at the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office.
The bill allows students to receive both high school and college credit for the courses, and – for the first time – would allow high schools to offer some community college courses on their campuses. Additionally, AB 1451 increases the number of college course units students can take per semester, from 11 to 15. Students would be exempted from fees for the courses.
Similar dual enrollment partnerships between schools and colleges have shown promise in boosting graduation and college-going rates, especially for low-income students, according to a 2012 study by Teachers College at Columbia University.
The study looked at campuses that participated in the Concurrent Courses Initiative funded by The James Irvine Foundation.* The three-year pilot program funded dual enrollment partnerships at 10 community colleges and 21 high schools in California, including those in San Francisco, Santa Barbara, Los Angeles, Tulare and Sacramento.
Students who participated in the programs were more likely to graduate from high school and enroll in college and were less likely to need remedial coursework once they got there, the study said.
“Concurrent enrollment serves as a college booster,” Holden said in testimony before the education committee this week.
“We’re hoping quite frankly that more young people will take advantage so that concurrent enrollment or vocational (education) courses can be taken,” Holden added in an interview. “It demystifies for a lot of young people the college experience.”
Some 26,604 students took concurrent enrollment courses at community colleges in summer 2013, with 22,432 completing and finishing their courses, according to an analysis of AB 1451. That’s down from 2007, when 68,708 students participated in the programs, with 53,387 completing and passing their courses.
One advocate for career technical education programs applauded the intent of the bill, but said it’s not a silver bullet that will solve concerns over the availability of career tech and career-based regional occupational programs in schools.
“Every time one of these (bills) comes up, we look at it as a possible solution that might help and I think that’s fine, except it doesn’t address the root issue, which is how do we design and implement an educational system that really, truly meets the needs of all students,” said Jim Aschwanden, executive director of the California Agricultural Teachers Association, which advocates for ag education. “… I just worry about the almost distraction that occurs here because we think we’re solving the problem in a major way when it’s just nibbling around the edges.”
Concurrent enrollment programs have also been controversial in the past.
Newspaper articles about a decade ago revealed that community colleges were claiming enrollment funding for high school students who were taking traditional physical education courses – some were even participating in football practice – at their high schools, according to a 2003-04 state budget summary by the Legislative Analyst’s Office, which recounted the incident. Then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger recommended withholding $80 million from the statewide community college budget to recoup the fees paid to the colleges for the improperly enrolled high school students. The Legislature subsequently passed a series of laws to increase oversight over concurrent enrollment programs and limit abuses.
AB 1451 maintains many of those restrictions – campuses will still be prohibited from offering physical education courses under concurrent enrollment, for instance. The bill also prohibits “double dipping” to prevent colleges and high schools from both receiving attendance funding for concurrently enrolled students.
Stewart said the bill provides an additional level of oversight by requiring participating campuses to submit an annual report on their programs to the state Department of Finance and the Legislature.
Courses offered through concurrent enrollment could not supplant courses already offered at high schools. Holden also introduced amendments to the bill requiring that the programs be offered in accordance with all state and federal laws, including teaching requirements, to address concerns that community college instructors don’t meet the necessary requirements to teach high school students.
“These pupils, who in every other respect are high school pupils taking a course for high school credit, could be taught by non-credentialed teachers who have not been background-checked,” said one bill analysis, which called for an amendment to ensure the bill does not violate the No Child Left Behind Law, which requires that all K-12 students be taught by certified teachers. Community college instructors are not required to hold K-12 teaching credentials.
The California Teachers Association is opposing the bill until it sees amendments to address a number of concerns.
“It raises the possibility of community college instructors teaching college courses on high school campuses,” said CTA spokesman Mike Myslinski. The union is also concerned about credentialing concern, among other issues, he said.
“We’re hoping that the amendments will resolve some of these conflicts,” Myslinski said.
A financial analysis has not yet been provided for the bill, which has passed the Assembly Higher Education and Assembly Education committees and has been sent to the Appropriations Committee for review.
California community colleges are recovering from $809 million in budget cuts over the past three years that forced campuses to cut course offerings and programs, but Stewart said he doesn’t expect concurrent enrollment programs to limit course availability for traditional students.
“The students who take concurrent enrollment within our system is a relatively small fraction,” he said. “ … This is really about how do we build better partnerships with K-12 so students are prepared when they get to college.”
*The James Irvine Foundation also provides financial support to EdSource, but has no say in editorial decisions.
Michelle Maitre covers college and career readiness. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter @michelle_maitre. Sign up here for a no-cost online subscription to EdSource Today for reports from the largest education reporting team in California.