Earlier in the month, California Governor Brown signed Assembly Bill 288, which correctly suggests that dual-enrollment in college courses can be an effective intervention for youth at risk of dropping out of high school. Introduced by Chris Holden of Pasadena, this legislation fosters the development of College and Career Access Pathways partnerships. The new law addresses dual enrollment for high school students, an existing but still under-utilized strategy in California. In calling for the creation of new partnerships between community colleges and school districts, AB 288 does two important things for California students: it eases current restrictions and it challenges communities to broaden dual enrollment opportunities. It eases restrictions on dual enrollment so students participating in College and Career Access Pathways can enroll in up to 15 credits, or four college courses per semester, at no cost (currently, students are limited to 11 credits). This is a benefit to students enrolled in college-based early college programs, as it can increase their progress toward high school graduation as well as their ability to complete more post-secondary credits by the time they earn a diploma.
What may be even more important about AB 288 is its language that challenges colleges and school districts to use dual enrollment in order to serve the most vulnerable students: “Dual enrollment has historically targeted high-achieving students; however, increasingly, educators and policymakers are looking toward dual enrollment as a strategy to help students who struggle academically or who are at risk of dropping out.” (AB 288, 2015) Because dual enrollment has the greatest net benefit for students who would have otherwise not made the transition to postsecondary education, this language has potential to prompt the creation of many more transformative programs for off-track and out-of-school youth in California. “California should rethink its policies governing dual enrollment, and establish a policy framework under which school districts and community college districts could create dual enrollment partnerships as one strategy to provide critical support for underachieving students…” (AB 288, 2015)
We know that these partnerships will be effective, because a handful of communities have forged ahead. Gateway to College programs already serve previously out-of-school and off-track students in seven California communities. Developing additional College and Career Access Pathway partnerships will provide precisely the type of intervention needed to prepare off-track and out-of-school youth for success as they enter the workforce.
Over the past two years, California has made meaningful investments in educational equity (LCCF, http://www.cde.ca.gov/fg/aa/lc/ and Student Success Act of 2012, http://bit.ly/PP5FSY) and career and college readiness via the California Career Pathways Trust (http://www.cde.ca.gov/ci/ct/pt/). While AB 288 has a modest scope both fiscally and technically, it does take a critical step toward combining the equity agenda and career pathway agenda. The Assembly is correct that educators and policymakers are looking to the potential power of dual enrollment and it opens a door which many students, communities, and other states can and should walk through.