Program gives students a leg up (part 1)
A diploma with honors is a noteworthy achievement for any Iowa high school graduate. But for 18-year-old Georgia Page, it simply wasn’t enough.
In addition to her high school diploma from Roosevelt High School, Georgia also received her associate degree from Des Moines Area Community College (DMACC) in May. This accomplishment was a result of her course work through joint enrollment opportunities offered by her high school.
Through joint enrollment, Iowa students, like Georgia, have the opportunity to enroll in community college courses while in high school. This allows students to experience potential fields of study early and earn valuable college credits, industry-recognized credentials and even degrees while still attending high school, oftentimes at little to no cost to the student’s family. In fact, over 97 percent of all joint enrollees access courses through a program known as concurrent enrollment, which is paid through a contractual agreement between the high school and community college.
“Joint enrollment provides a realistic, college workload while in high school,” Georgia said. “It’s a great transition period.”
Joint enrollees can get accustomed to the types of courses and expectations required at the college level. This can promote a healthy transition between high school and college and encourage students to enroll in postsecondary education immediately after graduation, often to continue the studies they started during joint enrollment. Students who engage in joint enrollment are also more likely to have higher grade point averages during college and are more likely to complete their college programs.
Currently, Iowa is one of the top states for joint enrollment participation. During the 2019-20 school year, joint enrollment reached an all-time high of 51,800 students, which was a 2.4 percent increase from the previous year. Most of these students enrolled in courses featuring English language and literature, social science and history, mathematics, health care sciences and life and physical sciences.
“Jointly enrolled students account for nearly 41 percent of the state’s total community college enrollment,” said Jen Rathje, education consultant at the Iowa Department of Education. “This equates to two out of every five community college students are also high school students, which shows that Iowa’s students are taking advantage of joint enrollment opportunities.”
Riding on this success, the joint enrollment program looks to reach even more students, especially racial and ethnic minorities. Currently, only 16.4 percent of Iowa’s joint enrollees self-reported as a racial or ethnic minority, and compared to the total community college enrollment and public K-12 enrollment, joint enrollees are less diverse.
Georgia, who is African-American, believes that joint enrollment is beneficial to Iowa’s students, including those from diverse backgrounds.
“With joint enrollment, you can earn college credits,” she said. “It definitely helped me prepare for college.”
At DMACC, which provided joint enrollment opportunities for Georgia’s high school, officials are working to find solutions to reach more students with a focus on race, socio-economic status, gender, disability and first-generation.
“We’ve looked at this more closely over the past year and a half,” said Michael Lentsch, director of DMACC Career Advantage-Enrollment Services. “One factor is the type of proficiency requirements, such as a standardized test, that a student must provide. We are partnering with school districts to provide students with multiple ways to show proficiency. We can look at GPA (grade point average), teacher recommendations, overall transcripts or a different type of test.”
Along with the new proficiency options, seven new college and career transition counselors have been hired. The counselors will be able to more readily assist students from diverse backgrounds in 13 school districts with their academic planning for joint enrollment. DMACC is also planning to provide more marketing and educational pieces, including collateral for Spanish-speaking families, to help spread the word on the program. DMACC will begin providing this information during eighth grade to help introduce the program and its benefits early.
“Joint enrollment opens up their eyes that they can handle college curriculum,” Lentsch said. “Students can surprise themselves on how well they can do. It has such long-lasting effects on the doors and opportunities it can open.”
For Georgia, the doors for her future are, indeed, wide open. She is excited to attend the University of Iowa this year, and with many of her foundational courses out of the way, Georgia anticipates majoring in African-American studies and social work for three years before eventually enrolling in law school.
“I could graduate in two years if I wanted to, but I’m planning on three years for some fun courses,” Georgia said. “I’m excited for what’s up next.”