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8.2: Dual-Enrollment Writing Classes Should Always be Pursued

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    Author: Caroline Wilkinson, English, New Jersey City University

    Dual enrollment is a program that allows a high-school student to take a college course and receive credit for both high school and college. According to the most comprehensive study on dual enrollment, in the 2002–2003 academic year, 70% of high schools allowed students to take college courses. Depending on where the student lives, many school districts and states also pay for the student to take the college class. High schools and universities offer dual enrollment because it addresses the growing national interest in college readiness. This course would seem to be a benefit to both the high-school students, who can make an early start on their college careers, and the university that can target potential applicants for enrollment. However, dual-enrollment programs are problematic because the cultures of high school and college are so distinct that a dual-enrollment course cannot provide the institutional context of college (such as the instructor, the classroom, the campus, fellow students, the technology in use, and so on).

    Unlike a college composition course, a dual-enrollment course is held at a university campus or at a local high school. A college instructor or high-school instructor will teach it. The constant is that high-school students will be involved. When dual-enrollment courses began to spread in the 1990s, composition scholar David Schwalm explained that dual enrollment implies that a college class can be duplicated in a different environment when, in fact, it cannot because of the disparity between a high-school setting and a college one. Institutional norms at the secondary level, such as shorter class times and a higher number of students per class, impact the pedagogy of a dual-enrollment writing course when it occurs at the site of the high school.

    College composition courses usually focus on writing as a process so that a student will go through the actions of drafting and revising one or more texts throughout the semester. Many composition courses focus on peer review, where students read each other’s work and give guided feedback to one another, and on conferences, where the student meets with a professor one-on-one to go over what the student can most improve. This drafting and revision process functions well in the college environment, where class times can be flexible. However, at the high-school level, class times can typically run 45 minutes with seven periods every single day. Thus, there is less time for class discussion in dual-enrollment courses. Since the class meets more during the week than a college class would, the amount of reading or homework required changes because of the institutional environment. In a dual-enrollment course, it is nearly impossible to conference with students one-on-one because the instructor has to be in the classroom at all times to watch over all the students. The instructor cannot cancel class so that conferences can occur; therefore, the way that writing is taught is different because of the context of the classroom.

    If the main issues with dual enrollment are institutional, then it would make sense to offer dual-enrollment writing courses at the sponsoring university instead of the high school. This would negate some of the problems with timing and number of students that impact pedagogy. What the change in environment would not account for is the maturity of the students in the class. Composition scholars Kara Taczak and William H. Thelin studied the impact of adding high-school students to a mixed composition course on campus with college students. Although most of these dual-enrollment high-school students performed well academically, they were also considered a distraction to the instructor and college students. The high-school students’ familiarity with each other meant they behaved in ways that potentially disrupted the norms of a first-year college classroom that would otherwise be filled with students who do not know each other. Although the institution of instruction had changed to an on-campus classroom, the culture of high school continued.

    There will be cultural issues in dual-enrollment courses because of the varied factors unique to these kinds of courses that impact the teaching of writing. In order to save money, most universities and high schools enter a partnership in a dual-enrollment program so that a high-school instructor teaches the course. Efforts at collaborative partnerships between high schools and colleges frequently leave the dual-credit writing instructor in a precarious space because this instructor will represent the college curriculum and culture to high-school students. This high-school instructor will need to be trained effectively by the sponsoring university. Ideally, this training will ensure that the instructor understands and possesses a specific curriculum to teach, is well versed in the objectives of the specific composition course, and employs the composition assessment policy of the university. If the university fails to provide the instructor with this training, the course will then fail the students because it will not represent the same culture of writing as a course taught on campus.

    Additionally, high-school instructors may not have any experience in teaching college-level writing courses; most have experience only in teaching literature, creative writing, and speech or journalism courses. This lack of experience teaching at the university level—compounded by a lack of training from the university— could result in conflicting information being relayed to students about what college-level writing means. To complicate matters even more, students who earn dual enrollment writing credit will typically not need to take the first introductory writing course at a college; as a result, they will remain unfamiliar with the writing expectations of that college until later courses.

    Alternatives in Dual-Enrollment Writing Courses

    If dual-enrollment programs are here to stay, as indicated by the number of students that participate in them, then there can be more effective ways to prepare students for writing at the college level. There are already collaborative relationships between high schools and colleges throughout the United States in the form of the National Writing Project (NWP). The NWP offers professional development for educators in writing for local schools, districts, and higher education. Faculty from universities and K–12 schools co-direct sites in their local area. This collaboration has been successful in that there are nearly 200 sites in all 50 states. One way to make dual-enrollment programs more effective is for colleges to create better collaborative relationships with local high schools building on the sites of the NWP.

    Colleges and high schools need to be in closer conversation with one another about the purposes and curriculum of the dual-enrollment courses. They can do so by the college sharing its composition objectives, curriculum, sample syllabi, sample schedules, and sample assignments with the schools. The National Alliance of Concurrent Enrollment Partnerships (NACEP) serves as a national accrediting body for dual-enrollment partnerships. NACEP works to make sure that the dual-enrollment courses are just as rigorous as the on-campus college courses by applying measurable criteria in five categories: curriculum, faculty, students, assessment, and program evaluation. Currently, NACEP has accredited 98 dual-enrollment programs according to these standards. Dual-enrollment programs that want to be more effective can concentrate on the following standards recommended by NACEP:

    • Courses reflect the theoretical and pedagogical orientation of the sponsoring department at the university.
    • University faculty members perform classroom observations to demonstrate validity of the class.
    • High-school instructors meet the standards required of teaching a course at the college.
    • Professional development activities occur that offer both the college and high school a way to have conversations on what writing means and how it functions in a dual-enrollment class.

    These standards provide college and high-school instructors with strategies that will not only help them to address the institutional and cultural issues of dual enrollment, but also instruct them how to work within this setting to create a beneficial learning environment.

    In order to make these partnerships effective, there should be one contact at the university, such as the Writing Program Administrator, that high-school instructors can come to with questions about materials and institutional knowledge of composition. This same contact would also observe the instructors who teach dual-enrollment at the high-school level and provide feedback on the classroom. These liaisons could also provide high-school instructors with representative assignments for college-level writing courses so that high-school instructors do not end up teaching a literature course as a composition course.

    Colleges could provide a more collaborative relationship with a high school through program work in the dual-enrollment writing program. Respect for where students are coming from in their writing is central to composition. There should also be respect for other levels of educators by college instructors. One way to create a partnership between a college and high school is to provide funding for high-school instructors to participate. Christine Farris has started a program at Indiana University, where she offers 35-hour seminars in the summer that introduce high-school teachers to current methods in college composition and ways to teach the composition course in a manner that is consistent with the university approach. The high-school teachers are also funded for the summer seminar and participate in the fall and spring colloquia and classroom site visits. This set of support mechanisms establishes a clearer idea of what is expected of college writing in the dual-enrollment course and ensures high-school instructors have a relationship with the college writing program. Dual-enrollment programs are seen as ways to make money by many universities because students or high schools have to pay a discounted tuition in order to take them. It seems only fair that the university should pay for the professionalization of the high-school instructors who are teaching this course.

    Although the contexts of high schools and colleges will be different no matter what, dual-enrollment instructors can also reflect on ways to prepare students more in class, such as having group conferences so students have the experience of discussing their revision plans, and taking a field trip to the university campus so students can see where the library and writing center are. These experiences provide another way to show students they are in a college class that differs from high school. Drawing upon the relationships formed in the NWP, following guidelines under NACEP, mandating one person as the contact for dual enrollment in the department at the university, and providing professionalization benefits for dual-enrollment instructors will create more effective dual-enrollment writing programs.

    Further Reading

    For more about the standards and assessment of dual-enrollment writing programs, see the Council of Writing Program Administrators’ “CWPA Position Statement on Pre-College Credit for Writing.” This statement discusses pedagogy, student readiness, and curriculum for dual enrollment compared to Advanced Placement and other pre-college credit programs. For more information on these programs, see Rob Jenkins’ “Advanced Placement vs. Dual Enrollment.” Additionally, see the National Alliance of

    Concurrent Enrollment Partnerships’ “Statement of National Concurrent Enrollment Partnership Standards” for more understanding of how to assess an effective dual-enrollment writing program.

    For more about how writing scholars are reflecting on the growing number of dual-enrollment programs, see Kristine Hansen and Christine Farris’ College Credit for Writing in High School: The ‘Taking Care of’ Business (National Council of Teachers of English). This edited collection explains the economics of dual-enrollment writing programs and the institutional and cultural issues that face dual enrollment. Additionally, see Kara Taczak and William H. Thelin’s “(Re)Envisioning the Divide: The Impact of College Courses on High School Students” in Teaching English in the Two Year College and Howard Tinberg and Jean Paul Nadeau’s “Contesting the Space between High School and College in the Era of Dual-Enrollment” in College Composition and Communication.


    college-level writing, composition/rhetoric, dual enrollment, writing studies, writing-program administration

    Author Bio

    Caroline Wilkinson is an assistant professor of English at New Jersey City University. She writes about dual-enrollment writing courses and the relationship between high schools and colleges. She also writes about the portrayals of what college-level writing might mean.