When first introduced, dual enrollment and early-middle college programs were often implemented as a strategy to increase the availability of post-secondary education to under-represented and underserved populations (i.e. students of color and students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds). However, in fact, those taking greatest advantage of these programs are overwhelmingly white and from more economically privileged households.
“These programs are being used as a way to get into college by those who are most likely to go into college in the first place,” said Wendolyn Davis, Assistant Director of Transfer Student Services at Central Michigan University.
“Why is the targeted population for early/middle college the population that seems to be utilizing it the least?” Davis asked.
At least in part, she surmises, it’s due to an inability to see or expect an equitable return on their investment. Students don’t see college graduates from their backgrounds ending up with commensurate jobs and salaries.
“They ask themselves: If I’m going to end up in the same job for the same pay, why should I bother with college?” she said.
Changing the construct: Mindset, outreach, and services
Students who aspire to attend college need a conduit from aspiration to achievement that is grounded in reality.
One way to do that, Davis suggests, is to address the mindset of students who fail to see the benefit of college.
“It’s important for students to see representation, see the stories of people who have benefited from college,” Davis said. “They need to see the numbers that show that with higher education, they will do better financially.”
Getting that picture in front of underserved students may help them to begin to see that college is for them. That requires intentional, targeted marketing and messaging.
Importantly, outreach is only one aspect of making students feel like they belong. The students need to feel welcome and integrated once they’ve enrolled. Colleges must have support services around underserved populations.
For example: many dual enrollment programs are at community colleges. Do those campuses have good public transportation access?
“A student not having transportation can be a barrier to getting to school,” Davis said. “How do we address that barrier to access?”
Davis will address these issues and more in her AACRAO 2019 session “Changing the Construct: Underserved/represented Students in Dual Enrollment in Early/ Middle College.”