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May 24, 2022

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Other Papers Say: Make dual-credit courses free

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The following editorial originally appeared in The Seattle Times:

High school students who enroll in courses that also earn them college credit are more likely to graduate and go on to successfully complete college coursework.

The courses save students time and money — when they are able to participate. State lawmakers should remove costs that create financial barriers to lower-income students. This would help eliminate disparities in enrollment.

Washington high-schoolers can earn concurrent college and high school credits through several different programs. They can attend class on college campuses through Running Start, in their own school buildings through College in the High School or take dual-credit career and technical education courses. They also can take Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate or Cambridge International exams.

These dual-credit options build students’ confidence and help them to see themselves as college material. But enrollment is not equal between demographic groups.

Nearly 62 percent of the state’s high school students completed at least one dual-credit course during the 2020 school year, according to the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction. But fewer than 42 percent of the state’s American Indian and Alaska Native high school students enrolled in such a class that year. Also underrepresented were students who were Black, Latino and Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander, English-language learners, or of lower-income households. These gaps have persisted even as overall dual-credit enrollment has increased in recent years.

Part of the problem is cost. College in the High School courses can cost up to $66 per credit. Running Start students must pay for books, fees and transportation. There are testing fees for students earning credit by exam. While low-income students are eligible for relief, Washington families pay a combined $54 million to $69 million annually for dual enrollments across all programs, the Washington Student Achievement Council estimates.

But, as state Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal says, advanced coursework for eligible high school students should be part of basic education.

“If these were students taking advanced courses in high school, we’d never be able to charge them for a book,” he said.

In recent years, state lawmakers have earmarked just under $5 million annually to reduce costs for dual-credit courses, most of which is spent on increasing equitable access to dual credit. But they should simplify the process by just making courses free, particularly for low-income and underrepresented students.

“It’s one thing to say, ‘There’s no cost, come,’ ” Reykdal said. “It’s another thing to say, ‘Come and we’ll see what we can do for you.’ ”

Lawmakers can take the first step toward greater inclusion by eliminating program costs and fees.

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