On October 31, 2015, the dual credit/dual enrollment policy landscape changed, at least in part, when the Department of Education (ED) announced an experiment expanding access to Federal Pell Grants to low-income high school students taking college coursework. This is the first time that high school students will be able to use Federal Pell Grants to pay for dual enrollment courses (U.S. Department of Education, 2015).
While the ED reports that over 1.4 million high school students participate in dual enrollment nationwide, the Dual Enrollment Experimental Site Initiative is limited in time and money: three years, with $20 million in 2016–2017, “benefiting up to 10,000 students from low-income backgrounds across the country” (U.S. Department of Education, 2015). Postsecondary institutions around the country were invited to submit applications to participate in the Dual Enrollment Experimental Site Initiative. Importantly, the announcement situates the Dual Enrollment Experimental Site Initiative within President Obama’s overall concern for student access to community colleges.
Illinois Community College Participation
In May 2016, ED announced a list of 44 postsecondary institutions across 23 states that were invited to participate in the Dual Enrollment Experimental Site Initiative (U.S. Department of Education, 2016). Among the participants in Illinois are Carl Sandburg College, in Galesburg, and Illinois Central College, in East Peoria. Lori Sundberg, president of Carl Sandburg College said, “To be selected for this program is an incredible opportunity for us and for high school students in our district” (Carl Sandburg College, 2016). She continued, “Dual credit students are and will continue to be an important piece of our enrollment. Allowing them to have access to these federal grants expands that opportunity to even more students and puts them in a position to be more successful in college once they graduate from high school” (Carl Sandburg College, 2016). Twelve of the fourteen school high school districts within Sandburg’s district have more than 40% of their students classified as low-income (Carl Sandburg College, 2016). Carl Sandburg expects that the new Pell resource will help “expand access to dual enrollment courses for low-income, first-generation students” (Carl Sandburg College, 2016).
Illinois Central College
Bruce Budde, then-interim president of Illinois Central College (ICC) said,
We are grateful to the Dept. of Education for the opportunity to participate in this groundbreaking experiment. The program aligns well with our focus on student success and our long-term strategy to accelerate the completion or transfer of our students district-wide, particularly those who have historically been under served. (Illinois Central College, 2016)
This summer, OCCRL contacted Carl Sandburg and ICC to congratulate them and to learn more about their hopes for the Experiment. In particular, we asked each college to touch on some of the more immediate impacts they anticipate. Over the course of three years, the Experiment will be well studied by the DOE and colleges are just beginning to implement plans. Our hope was simply to gain a window into each dual credit program and how students (and schools) might benefit right away from the new resources. Both colleges were kind enough to share their thoughts on what is in store.
ICC Vice President of Student Services Tracy Morris spoke to the Pell Initiative in conjunction with the launch of the Strong Start program, which puts qualified high school students on track for an associate’s degree at ICC.
We saw the most immediate impact of this initiative with the spring 2016 launch of the Strong Start program within the Peoria Public School system. At first, there was limited interest in the program, with only two students participating. At the time, we suspected that the cost to participate in the Strong Start program (with no opportunity for financial aid or scholarships) was a major factor, although this was not confirmed.
Upon hearing of our selection for the Pell Grant Experimental program, the Peoria Public School system was at the forefront of those interested in the program and sent out a communication to all students eligible for the Strong Start program. More than 100 interested students came to informational sessions, and more than 50 students applied for consideration. While not all students were eligible for financial aid, the interest generated in Strong Start was outstanding. We ended up with 21 students enrolling in the Strong Start program. We anticipate that this number will grow in the next cycle, since the enrollment and promotion was done in the summer.
In addition, this program has opened access to students in the two most underserved high schools in the Peoria Public School District. In one school, seven of the eight interested students were eligible for financial aid, and in the other school, six of the 11 interested were eligible. These two schools, in particular, lack access to dual credit options, so this participation in Strong Start is the only opportunity for students attending these schools.
Carl Sandburg Dean of Extension Services Debra S. Miller talked about the immediate benefit for students already taking dual credit courses, but perhaps paying out of pocket for tuition and other expenses.
My colleagues and I believe that this program will be very important to schools and students in subsequent semesters. This summer, we contacted our current dual credit students to encourage them to apply for Pell and those current students are the ones who mostly took advantage of the program for fall.
We think, given we have the high schools helping to promote this program to their students during this fall and we also have many avenues to communicate to all high school students in our district through the structures of the high school, we believe we will have more student applications this fall and next spring. Hopefully, this grant program will allow our current dual credit students to be able to afford to take more credit hours and, somewhat more importantly, provide access to students who are in families who could not afford dual credit without Pell and were unable to participate until now.
Therefore, we believe that the Pell can be a transformative opportunity for many low-income students who can now have access to dual credit coursework for a pathway to a credential and, later a career.
Congratulations to Carl Sandburg College and Illinois Central College! OCCRL looks forward to learning more about your successes and challenges as the Initiative unfolds.
Carl Sandburg College. (2016). Sandburg chosen for dual enrollment Pell Grant pilot program. Galesburg, IL: Author.
Illinois Central College. (2015). ICC and Washington High School partner to offer students a strong start in college. East Peoria, IL: Author.
Illinois Central College. (2016). U.S. Department of Education selects ICC for nationwide experiment on dual enrollment. East Peoria, IL: Author.
U.S. Department of Education. (2015). Department of Education launches experiment to provide Federal Pell grant funds to high school students taking college courses for credit [Fact Sheet]. Washington, DC: Author.
U.S. Department of Education. (2016). Expanding college access through the dual enrollment Pell experiment. [Fact Sheet]. Washington, DC: Author.