How North Carolina Can Make College More Affordable

In an effort to make college more affordable, North Carolina should reestablish state-funded dual enrollment, which would allow students to transition from high school to college with credits, confidence, and tuition savings.

As the cost of college continues to rise, policymakers should seek solutions such as dual enrollment in an effort to make college a realistic dream for all students. Dual enrollment allows high school students to earn college credit from a community college while still enrolled in high school. Through dual enrollment, students may earn enough credits to potentially graduate from college early, saving thousands of dollars on tuition, books, and room and board. When dual enrollment programs are funded by the state, students can be enrolled in these courses for free. Furthermore, dual enrollment has a positive effect on high school graduation rates, college enrollment rates, college grades, and individual progress toward obtaining a degree.

As of 2010, funding for dual enrollment college classes in North Carolina was only available for high school students in early college high schools or those taking online STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) classes. The state’s limited funding has significantly reduced the number of high school students enrolled in community colleges. For instance, Beaufort Community College had 194 dual enrollment students in spring 2009, 54 in spring 2010, and none in spring 2011.

Still, dual enrollment programs continue to flourish elsewhere. Approximately 28,616 Florida high school students participate in dual enrollment annually, earning 231,947 semester hours of college credit.4 In 2006, 42 states had dual enrollment programs and many were planning to expand access to more students.

Analysis 

Every North Carolina public high school with a neighboring community college should devise a dual enrollment program for students to earn college credit before high school graduation. To make this option affordable, North Carolina should reinstate community college courses that were previously funded by the state legislature. Making college courses available to all public high school students would allow any student to earn college credit and save tuition fees before college. 

Although North Carolina faces a budget crisis, the money saved through dual enrollment far exceeds its cost to the individual and the state. The major fiscal argument against dual enrollment is that participating students are counted in total student enrollment budgets for both high schools and community colleges. Because school systems receive money from the state based on enrollment numbers, students who are enrolled in both college and high school cost the state more. Additionally, in dual enrollment the state pays for community college tuition and fees averaging $90.43 per credit hour. However, dual enrollment saves students approximately $19,388 for every year’s worth of credits earned. Further, dual enrollment will reduce the amount of money the state spends on state grants for low-income students and community college remediation programs. Dual enrollment is financially beneficial to the state because it makes college more affordable and creates a more educated workforce in North Carolina. 

Next Steps 

By seriously committing to dual enrollment and making college credit available in most public high schools, North Carolina could become a leader in early college programming. To start, North Carolina should reinstate dual enrollment funds for high school students taking community college courses during the 2012-2013 fiscal year. To ensure the greatest impact, the North Carolina General Assembly should require all schools with a neighboring community college to devise an early college graduation plan which includes the option for dual enrollment. Dual enrollment is a cost effective solution to sending more students to college while saving money for both the individual and the state.