Dual enrollment provides high school students with access to college-level courses after they have exhausted all of the options available at their high school. For our son, dual enrollment became the centerpiece of a homeschool curriculum that balanced radical academic acceleration with the asynchronous development needs of a young adolescent.
During Andrew’s elementary school years, we worked with his teachers and school administrators to implement appropriate differentiation strategies in the classroom. We had only limited success, except in mathematics. As a fifth-grader, Andrew completed algebra and participated in the Midwest Talent Search. His strong scores on the SAT reasoning test qualified him to take an Academically Talented Youth Programs (ATYP) math course during his sixth-grade year. After that, the public high school provided him with individualized, accelerated instruction in precalculus. However, this kind of instruction was not available in other subject areas. Nor did administrators support placing him, at age 13, in advanced-level courses or providing him with access to dual enrollment without satisfying the usual requirements and prerequisites.
Faced with these obstacles, and after meeting with little success, we implemented a plan of our own design: homeschooling with dual enrollment in college-level math and science courses. This approach gave us the flexibility to develop an individualized educational plan that satisfied Andrew’s needs while supporting our personal values and beliefs. Our plan emphasized
- advancement in areas of strength and development in weaker disciplines;
- rigorous studies in math, science, and other subjects;
- life experience outside the classroom;
- sensitivity to asynchronous development;
- emphasis on high-quality learning over speedy acquisition of knowledge;
- individualized pacing and in-depth exploration into subject areas of interest;
- growth in independence and responsibility; and
- preparation for an away-from-home, full-time college experience.
The first step was engaging a college for dual enrollment. Our first choice was a private, four-year college because of its convenient location and its strong academic reputation in math and science education. Next, we
- contacted one of the college’s math professors, who also was one of Andrew’s ATYP instructors, to discuss his enrollment in the college’s calculus classes;
- called the college’s admissions office to learn about the school’s policy and procedures for dual enrollment; and
- prepared an application and scheduled an appointment with the director of admissions.
During the admissions interview, Andrew explained his interest in higher-level studies in math and science and
provided evidence of his readiness:
- a recent ACT score placing him in the 95th percentile of college-bound students,
- a strong SAT score from the Midwest Talent Search,
- the successful completion of math through precalculus, and
- a recommendation from the professor who had been Andrew’s instructor.
The college accepted Andrew for dual enrollment, which allows registration in two classes per semester. The first semester he registered for honors-level calculus (as recommended by the math professor) and physics for science majors. After four years of dual enrollment, Andrew had completed 15 courses in math, physics, engineering, Latin, and computer science, earning above-average and top grades in all of his courses with the exception of one advanced math course. He truly enjoyed the academic rigor and intellectual environment. In addition, Andrew attended guest lectures and science events and participated in a math seminar.
During his third year Andrew was also dually enrolled at the local community college, where he completed two English classes and one government course. We believed that these classes would offer appropriate academic challenge, and they were certainly more affordable. For families deciding between a community college and a four-year institution, it’s important to define expectations for dual enrollment. In our experience, the four-year college provided more academic rigor, a better peer-group match in terms of academic talent, and heightened student-performance expectations.
Every college and university has its own policy regarding the acceptance or transfer of dual-enrollment credits. Some colleges will accept all college credits, while others accept only those not used to satisfy high school graduation requirements. In considering colleges for subsequent full-time enrollment, it’s wise to learn the school’s policy on dual-enrollment credit before making a decision.
At age 17, Andrew left home to pursue full-time studies at a different college. His dual-enrollment experience prepared him well for the rigors of his current engineering curriculum and enabled him to start with classes typically taken by second-year students. He is successfully handling the responsibilities and demands of living away from home. In hindsight, Andrew believes that he made the right choice by not attending his local high school. He enjoyed the flexibility, depth, and variety of his individualized experience. As parents, we believe that dual enrollment provided the right challenge, balance, and pace while preparing Andrew for the next phase of his life.
Gera Witte owns a graphic design and marketing communications business with her husband in Grand Rapids, Michigan. She is a business writer, communication consultant, and gifted education advocate. She took a leave of absence during her son’s homeschool years to serve as teacher, mentor, and taxi driver.