COVID Reduces Number of High School Students Taking College Courses


Like many students attending college during the coronavirus pandemic, Alexis Lopez struggled with poor Wi-Fi and professors who didn’t offer much support.

“They couldn’t really help us. They didn’t really know what to do for us, ”said Lopez, who recalls being so frustrated in front of her computer that she burst into tears. “We had to do everything ourselves.

Unlike most college students, however, Lopez, who lives in Bastrop, Texas, is still in his final year of high school. And the problems forced her to withdraw from two of those classes, causing her to have two unwanted W’s on her transcript.

“I never had to withdraw from a class until the pandemic struck,” she said. “This is what I didn’t want.”

At 18, Lopez is part of what various estimates say is ten% at 34% high school students taking college-level courses that give them a head start on credit, save time and money, and prepare them for the demands of higher education.

But the number of students who enroll and pass these courses has started to decline – dramatically, in some places – suggesting a potential decline ahead in the number of high school students who end up going to college. For those who go, that means getting a degree could take longer and cost more.

“It definitely derails them,” said Samuel West, district director of P-16 at Houston Community College.

The increasingly popular practice of taking college courses while in high school – a framework that includes double credits, concurrent enrollment, and early college programs – is often a free or inexpensive way to earn college credit, sometimes saving two years on the time it takes to get an undergraduate degree.

Double registration also increases the likelihood of students going to college, suggests research. A study from Colorado found that those who took dual and concurrent enrollment courses were 23% more likely to enroll in university than their classmates who didn’t. They too do better once there: Students who earned double credit before going to four Texas public universities were more likely than their peers to earn a bachelor’s degree in six years, according to another study.

Participating in dual enrollment “helps students move their gaze a few feet in front of them to a point farther on the horizon and start on that route,” said Amy Williams, executive director of the National Alliance of Concurrent Enrollment Partnerships.

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As the United States enters year two of an economic downturn caused by COVID-19, dual enrollment offers students a way to get the degrees and certificates they need to improve their job prospects while saving money. Three in ten students entering college have already obtained an associate’s degree or other post-secondary diploma by the end of high school, Jobs of the Future Reports.

“When times are tough, students pay close attention to educational pathways that will get them into well-paying jobs as quickly as possible,” said Alex Perry, College in High School coordinator. Alliance.

But while double credit, concurrent enrollment, and early college courses could help young people overcome the financial and educational hurdles of the public health crisis, the infrastructure that makes them possible has faced its own challenges in the world. a year of closed campuses and growing infections.

As colleges reconvened for their first full semester during the fall pandemic, undergraduate enrollment among students under the age of 18 – an indicator from college to high school – was mostly flat after a strong increase in the previous year. By spring, registrations for this age group had declined by almost 3%.

“Generally, if fewer students are dual enrolled, it will likely have a net negative impact on university access and enrollment once a student has graduated from high school,” said Perry.

The trend hit unevenly across the country, with some colleges seeing increases while others suffered double-digit dips. In Idaho, for example, the number of students taking dual enrollment courses through Boise State University 37% drop in autumn. Idaho State University and the University of Idaho also reported significant declines.

In a chaotic and uncertain academic year, some courses “just weren’t offered because we couldn’t guarantee that [students] were going to be in school, ”said Mercedes Pour, director of college access for the Maine Community College System.

Even when dual enrollment programs were available, high school students struggling with distance learning sometimes did not do as well as they wanted, administrators said.

The Highland campus of Austin Community College in Texas.  Pass rates plummeted in the fall in dual-enrollment courses offered by the college when students dropped out more often than usual.

Pass rates fell during the fall in courses offered by Austin Community College in Texas, when students retired more often than usual. Part of the problem is that high school students didn’t have as much time to study after taking jobs during the recession, said Mison Zuñiga, CCA’s acting assistant vice president of college and high school relations.

“We’re just seeing things that we haven’t seen in a long time for high school students, which are just part of what this pandemic has definitely surfaced,” Zuñiga said.

Other high school students who were taking college courses struggled to switch to distance learning. Still others have been discouraged from taking additional credit because of the potential effect on their school records of a poor grade or dropout.

Bryan Gonzalez-Alcantar, a junior who like Lopez goes to Colorado River Collegiate Academy in Bastrop, Texas, wanted to take advanced summer schooling last year until his advisor didn’t recommend him, fearing that additional courses not required for his diploma may affect his cumulative grade point average.

“It slows me down a bit, because now I have to take them this summer instead of last summer,” Gonzalez-Alcantar said.

Bryan Gonzalez-Alcantar, a junior at Colorado River Collegiate Academy in Bastrop, Texas, has postponed his dual-enrollment college classes until this summer due to the pandemic.

The fallout from poor performance can be serious. Dual-enrolled students create a college GPA, and if they fail a course, they could run into debt by retaking it after high school, being ineligible for financial aid due to rules regarding maintain satisfactory academic progress or lose their competitive edge for admission and the scholarships that come with passing a college course in high school.

“This academic record follows them for the rest of their lives,” said West of Houston Community College.

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According to college data, HCC pass rates fell from 89% in 2019 to 85% last fall for regular dual credit students and from 80% to 74% for those in early high school programs. Male students of color struggled the most with classes, West said, as did students whose classes moved to a format that could be completed at any time, instead of being offered on a specific schedule.

Already black and latino students participate in double registration at lower rates than their white counterparts. According to the Community College Research Center at Teachers College at Columbia University, some students cannot afford tuition, tuition, or transportation costs to where they are needed, or they attend high schools that they need. offer relatively poor preparation. (The Hechinger Report, which produced this story, is an independent unit of Teachers College.)

Amid COVID-19, black Americans and Latinos also faced disproportionately higher rates of economic difficulties, hospitalization And the dead virus. Meanwhile, students from all walks of life have suffered from mental health problems including depression and anxiety, the nonprofit mental health awareness organization Active Minds found in a survey.

“It’s a time when I’m not sure people should take a little more, and that’s what double entry is. You know, that’s a little bit more in addition to your high school curriculum, ”said Pour of the Maine Community College System.

Towards the start of the pandemic, Lopez looked after his grandfather after he fell ill, then broke his hip in a fall, washing him and changing his diapers while trying to cope with his homework.

When she was home and had access to a vehicle over the past year, she would often go to a library or parking lot and then lock herself in her car for reliable Wi-Fi. People weren’t wearing masks inside buildings, she said, and she preferred to study on her own.

“I just wanted my year to be better,” she said. “I just wanted to go to school.

This story was produced by The Hechinger report, an independent, non-profit news organization focused on inequalities and innovation in education. Subscribe to our higher education newsletter.


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