Slashing dual enrollment funding and opportunities will hurt Georgia’s high school students and future workforce. Dual enrollment, a program with an enrollment of 52,000 students in fiscal year 2019 , is essential for increasing the number of high school and college graduates in Georgia, allowing more low-income students to obtain a college degree and benefitting the state’s long-term economic prospects.
The program, started in 1992 under Governor Zell Miller, was originally known as “Move On When Ready .” Over the past four years, the number of dual enrollment students has nearly doubled, reflecting the program’s popularity and benefit to high school students. However, on January 28, the state Senate voted by a margin of 34-18 to approve HB 444 – a bill that will dramatically change the future of dual enrollment in Georgia . The most significant component of the bill changes the allowed number of credit hours a student may earn through the program. Currently, students may take up to 15 credit hours per semester. HB 444 limits students to 30 credit hours over the course of their entire high school career. If students wish to take more than 30 credit hours, their families will have to pay for the classes out of pocket .
This credit hour limit will disproportionately hurt low-income high school students in Georgia. Without the 30-hour limit, students were able to complete many college requirements while still enrolled in high school. This reduced the number of classes they had to take in college, therefore decreasing the time to obtain a post-secondary degree, reducing the student’s college costs and allowing them to enter the workforce earlier . For students who otherwise may have been unable to afford the cost of attending college, this provided an affordable path to a college degree.
Although the state of Georgia has not conducted extensive research about outcomes for dual enrollment students, data from other states shows that these programs have numerous positive effects. In Texas, students who participated in dual enrollment were more likely to graduate from high school and more likely to enroll in college post-graduation . This not only benefits students, but it also contributes to financial gains for the state. Data from the American Institute of Research suggests that the monetary benefits from dual enrollment are five times the costs of providing such a program. Greater post-secondary educational attainment generally leads to increased salary earnings and therefore increased tax revenues and lower state spending for social programs . Such data shows that HB 444 will hurt Georgia’s economy and workforce in the long term.
Of course, concern about reducing the budget and finding creative ways to cut costs is important. The program cost $105 million in fiscal year 2019, a significant financial commitment for the state . However, there are alternative ways to redistribute funds and cut costs that do far less harm to the state’s educational system and future economic outcomes. One potential area for reducing costs is the HOPE scholarship – a beneficial program for Georgia students, but one that aids financially well-off families far more than low-income students .
Currently, the state spends about $834 million each year on HOPE scholarship funds . However, less than half of in-state students benefit from this scholarship program . Because of the various ways in which low-income students are disadvantaged in the educational system, they are much less likely to qualify for merit-based aid like the HOPE and Zell scholarships. These scholarships are awarded to just 30% of low-income students in the university system, compared to 42% of middle and upper-income students . If Georgia were to make HOPE means-tested, the state could make the program much more efficient – the money would be going to students who need it most, rather than high-income students who could afford tuition without aid. In making these scholarships more streamlined and effective, Georgia would likely reduce costs and retain room in the budget for crucial programs like dual enrollment.
written by: Elena Gilbertson Hall