A college education is of more value to students than ever before. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median income for year-round, full-time workers age 25+ that have dropped out of school is $21,400. Those with a high school diploma earn $28,800. Those with a Bachelor’s Degree earn $46,300, and those with a Master’s Degree earn $55,300 – nearly double that of a high school graduate. A growing trend is to help students get that college degree by offering dual enrollment programs.

The recent report,“Dual Enrollment of High School Students at Postsecondary Institutions: 2002-2003,” found that more than half of all colleges and universities in the country enrolled high school students in courses for college credit. A second report,“Dual Credit and Exam-Based Courses in U.S. Public High Schools: 2002-2003,” found that 71 percent of our public high schools offered courses where students could earn both high school and college credit. It is estimated that there were 1.2 million enrollments in these “dual credit” courses.

Financially, dual enrollment is a great deal for the students. According to the Education Commission of the States, 21 states have comprehensive dual enrollment programs in place where students pay minimal or no tuition and fees, and both secondary and postsecondary credit is earned for the course. Another 26 states have limited dual/concurrent programs where students pay the tuition costs of these postsecondary classes. These programs are more restrictive and have more stringent eligibility requirements. Not all students are eligible to participate in a dual enrollment program. Eligibility to participate is dependent on state policy. In some states, the student must actually apply to the college. In others, the student’s must meet a GPA prerequisite, take a standardized entrance exam or be recommended by their high school guidance counselor.

A number of state programs have some very unique characteristics. Following are a few examples.

Private businesses in Arkansas often pay the tuition for dual/concurrent enrollment students in order to expose the students to college. Community colleges sometimes waive tuition fees for dual/concurrent enrollment students in exchange for the space that the high schools provide.

The Colorado Postsecondary Enrollment Options Act was one of the first in the nation to allow a 13th grade for high schoolers. This permits a high school student to graduate from high school at the same time as earning his or her Associate of Arts degree.

In New Hampshire, dual enrollment is considered a public relations tool by universities and colleges, so tuition is often waived.

Florida is one state where dual enrollments programs have been successful. A 1996 Postsecondary Education Planning Commission study found that “dual enrollment allows students to: (1) fulfill college-level educational requirements while still in high school; (2) enter college with career goals already in mind; (3) save time because they need not duplicate coursework already completed in high school; (4) save money because college tuition is not charged for courses taken in high school; (5) receive postsecondary credit when they pursue a degree at a college or university; and (6) enrich their high school curriculum as well as their college program with advanced courses related to their career.” In the 1999-2000 school year, 28,616 high school students in Florida participated in dual enrollment in the state's 28 community colleges and earned 231,947 semester hours of college credit. By the 2002-2003 school year, more than 34,000 high school students, averaging 2.9 courses per student, earned a total of 319,899 postsecondary credit hours through participation in dual enrollment programs.

While dual enrollment programs are not problem-free, families trying to find a way the pay for a college education consider them a godsend.