Sierra College and Placer High Schools Partner to Offer College Classes on High School Campuses

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Sierra College paved the way for 700 Placer County high school students to take 30 course sections of community college classes at their high school site this past fall, saving their families more than $100,000 in college enrollment fees and creating a model for dual enrollment in California.

Dual enrollment enables Placer County students to take Sierra College classes at their high school campuses.

Dual enrollment is taking a college class in the comfort of high school

Brenn Haydon has an ambitious plan and she's working it. A senior at Placer High School in Auburn, California, she's intent on graduating in June with enough academic credits to enter college as a sophomore. She and a growing number of students in Placer County--some headed for college and others into the workforce--are taking dual enrollment courses during the school day on their high school campus.

“It seemed too good to be true," she said of her first day there, "The teacher had to repeat several times, that yes, we were taking an actual college course and it was free!" Brenn has always intended on going to college, but the program is also filled with students who never saw themselves as college material, until now.

"Dual enrollment has prepared me for college in a way that no other class has," Brenn commented, "The teachers treat us like college students. Their expectations are high and they push us to study hard and learn skills needed to pass college courses." She tells all her friends, "that dual enrollment is taking a college class in the comfort of high school."

Introduced in 2015 through a partnership between Sierra College and Placer Union High School District, dual enrollment gives students preparing to transfer to a four year university a head start on their college careers and eases the transition from high school to college. Students in Career Technical Education (CTE) courses can achieve certification and can enter (or be close to entering) the workforce in good paying jobs. Since that time, other high schools have come on board, including: Rocklin Unified, Center High School (Sacramento County), Placer County Office of Education CTEWorks, and Western Sierra Collegiate Academy.

All classes are taught in the student's classrooms by high school instructors qualified to teach college. Credits for completing the courses count toward high school diplomas and, at the same time, toward lower division courses in each of the three tiers of the state’s secondary education system: at a California Community College, California State University, or at the University of California. In Placer County, the partnership between Sierra and Placer Union High School District has already seen remarkable results in just three semesters: 96% of dual enrollment students pass their coursework and 1,700 students have completed 3,822 college credits. And these credits translate into dollars. For example, Brenn Haydon who intends to earn a doctorate in English or will save her family some $7,000 in college tuition.

History of Dual Enrollment
As originally conceived, the targets of dual enrollment were high achievers in academics like Brenn Haydon. But over the past few decades, educators had experimented with using dual credit courses to help other students, and researchers have compiled the results. A substantial number of published studies in school districts across the country have concluded that dual enrollment works not only for the college-bound but also for those headed into the workforce.

At California community colleges, researchers found that dual students who earned certificates or degrees in workforce development had earned an average of 7.5 percent more in their jobs after college than non-dual students; and that dual enrollment students in the field of healthcare had found jobs earning 12.5 percent more than their non-dual peers.

Then came the findings for students from low income households whose members have never gone to college and often struggle in high school: through dual enrollment they were having more success. Many had found the challenge of college classes to be motivational and confidence-building. In a significant number of cases, high school dropout rates had declined. Kids who never thought they could, were going to college. Whether for technical training or for transfer to a four year college, investigators have amassed solid evidence that dual enrollment improves student outcomes.

The California Story
In 2002 disaster struck the efforts to accelerate dual enrollment in California. A few community colleges (not Sierra) were found to be misusing the state funds. In response, the legislature clamped down on dual enrollment statewide to prevent such abuse.

"At the same time, they took away local initiatives," said Willy Duncan, President of Sierra College. "The new laws and regulations put barriers in place that kept us from providing dual enrollment." As educators in high school and college districts from Washington State to Florida innovated new and more effective programs, dual enrollment languished in California.

But lawmakers with a keen interest in education soon set out to undo the damage done. They proposed, but failed to approve, a dozen bills over ten years to give educators flexibility to provide dual courses while guarding against misuse of funds. Then in 2011 they approved the College Promise Act which eased up on restrictions. As a kind of test, it allowed for the Long Beach Community College and their local high school districts to forge agreements and undertake more innovative dual enrollment initiatives.

Placer County Steps Up
Willy Duncan who is known for his "just get it done" attitude teamed up with the like-minded George Sziraki, Superintendent of the Placer Union High School District. With passage of the Long Beach legislation, they anticipated that a statewide law would, within a few years, find its way through the legislature.

They started to meet in work sessions with superintendents of the seven local high school districts. "A new state law with less-restraining regulations would, help launch dual enrollment, but didn’t solve all of the issues," said Duncan. "That would require changes to a myriad of local college and high school policies and procedures." Duncan and Sziraki intended, for example, to implement these new dual courses in the high schools which, the research said, would provide the best student outcomes. The instructor needed to be a familiar face, a high school teacher with college-level credentials; but, for that, new procedures had to be developed. "Okay, how do we make this happen?" asked Duncan, "and we collaborated to find solutions--for the sake of the student."

Meanwhile in Long Beach, assessments over three years of dual enrollment efforts were positive. The numbers of students taking and passing college-level math and English in high school had significantly increased; while the number of students needing remedial coursework on entering Long Beach City College had markedly decreased.

In the Sacramento legislature, momentum was building to reform dual enrollment laws. By spring 2015, legislators had introduced three bills and finally managed to pass one of them, AB 288. It removed barriers and facilitated dual enrollment partnerships between high school and college districts. In October, Governor Jerry Brown signed the bill into law.

At Sierra College and in nearby Auburn at the Placer Union High School District, Willy Duncan and George Sziraki were standing by. Their policies and procedures were all worked out and their partnership agreement was signed. "We were ready to launch," said Duncan.

They started off with three courses serving 90 students at Placer High, expanding to 15 course sections serving nearly 500 students in the 2016-17 school year. This represented nearly 1,500 college units earned and some $65,000 in enrollment fees saved by families with students passing a dual course. In the fall term, the college provided 30 course sections serving 700 students, saving their families more than $100,000 in college enrollment fees.

Meanwhile Brenn Haydon is well on her way to making her dreams come true. "I plan to become a college professor and published author," she said. "I want to continue to be involved in the learning process. What better way is there to impact my community than through education?”

As high school students plan their courses for next year, Sierra College encourages them to consider the advantages of dual enrollment. Learn more about how to enroll in Dual Enrollment at Sierra College.

About Sierra College
Sierra College District is rising to the needs of our community. Sierra College serves 3200 square miles of Northern CA with campuses in Roseville, Rocklin, Grass Valley, and Truckee. With approximately 125 degree and certificate programs, Sierra College is ranked first in Northern California (Sacramento north) for transfers to four year Universities, offers career/technical training, and classes for upgrading job skills. Sierra graduates can be found in businesses and industries throughout the region.

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Sue Michaels

Carol Pepper-Kittredge
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