Last week, our local community college sent out a press release that their Dual Credit and Early College Program was up for a national award. Congratulations. Kudos. Bravo.
For those that are not up on the latest edu-lingo, Dual Credit programs allow high school students to take freshman and sophomore college classes at an associated college or university. The course is taught by a certified high school teacher who has had their course approved by the college they are attending (like EPCC). A college professor acts as a facilitator for the course, and approves the work of the students.
Theoretically, a student could take these courses and graduate high school not only with a high school diploma, but also with an Associates Degree because, as the name implies, the student gets high school AND college credit simultaneously. These programs have been in place for several years now, and each district in the area has some form of it in place for their students.
That’s a big deal.
School districts are essentially paying for your child to attend college. Parents or students could save a ton of money towards a four year college degree. Imagine 2 out of your 4 years of college already taken care of by the time you graduate high school. That is the promise of Dual Credit: Save money, earn college credits.
These programs have proven successful for a number of years, and have benefitted many local community colleges across the nation by increasing enrollment. (All those high schoolers are also community college attendees after all…) Research shows that getting students into higher ed in high school improves their chances of actually finishing a four year degree.
Again, that is a big deal especially for many in El Paso which has a high poverty rate.
After reading the press release from EPCC, I couldn’t help but wonder if there were ways that this type of program could be improved. I think there are.
Tonie Badillo, Dean of EPCC’s Dual Credit and Early College High School Programs said “These students have the opportunity to save time and money by getting a head start on their college career.” Notice who is saving money: Just the students. The public schools that are sending their students actually are not saving any money, and in most cases, have split their ADA funds with the college.
Teachers have to be certified to teach dual credit, which costs additional money, and the public schools also have to supply college level textbooks to students taking these courses. College textbooks can cost hundreds of dollars for a single copy. The national average cost of a college textbook is $153 per book.
Clearly, the Community College is not losing any money in these transactions. They could, if they so choose, help out the local public schools by requiring all of the professors that teach any of these courses to use Open Education Resource (OER) textbooks. Typically, an average college textbook costs between $125-$250. Multiply that by the number of students enrolling each year in Dual Credit, and the burden placed on the providing public school district becomes prohibitive.
OER textbooks are created in the public sphere, and are free to use and download. And before anyone says “Free must mean bad” consider the Open STAX textbooks from Rice University . These are written by college professors specifically for college classes and have close to 40 college level courses available. For free, for anyone, forever.
The University of Minnesota also has an entire online library of OER college level textbooks, reviewed by college professors for rigor viability in the subject area. Even the State University of New York has an online library of OER textbooks. Surely, if OER is good enough for Rice University, the University of Minnesota, SUNY and hundreds of other institutions of higher education, it might just be good enough for El Paso Community College. The money saved by the public schools could be reinvested in teacher training or student technology.
There is no reasonable argument for paying $200 for a textbook when a OER equivalent is available for free. (This scenario also applies to Advanced Placement courses as well, where students are expected to take college level courses in High School. There is no reason to use expensive college texts when an OER text would be just fine.)
From Free Textbooks to Textbook Free
Another way to pass a savings down to public schools is to simply eliminate the need for a textbook altogether. The University of Texas Austin has an online program called UT OnRamps, which differs a bit from the Dual Credit programs offered in our area.
The OnRamps program is a Dual ENROLLMENT program, where the students are enrolled and taking a high school class AND taking an online college class offered by UT Austin. (Texas Tech has a similar OnRamps program.) The high school teacher acts as a facilitator for the university professor, working closely with the students who take the course 100% online, but have their high school teacher as a guide. Under this model, students receive a grade and credit from UT Austin and another grade from their public school, thus the term “Dual Enrollment.”
Often the grades are different, as the rigor of the college course is more than the that of the high school one. (EPISD offers OnRamps at several of its campuses.) What makes the OnRamps program interesting is that there is no textbook required. All of the material is online in the program’s learning management system. No text, no extra cost. Districts pay only for the cost of enrolling the student.
Like so many programs in education, the Dual Credit program is a boon to students, especially those coming from families in the lower income brackets. But also like many programs, it could be better. Using Open Education Resource textbooks in all dual credit classes would save money for local school districts that could be invested elsewhere.
There is no logical reason, when possible, that this is not happening.
Author: Tim Holt is an educator and writer, with over 33 years experience in education and opines on education-related topics here and on his own award-winning blog: HoltThink. He values your feedback.
Feel free to leave a comment. Read his previous columns here.