Dual credit is a great program. South Dakota high school students can take university classes for a discount ($40 per credit!) and count their credits toward both their high school and university diplomas. (Dang: they can even take French through Northern and SDSU!) In the absence of dedicated state support for gifted education (killed by Janklow-era budget cuts), dual credit is a reasonable substitute that saves students and families some money.
The Board of Regents’ FY 2015 Fact Book (page 14) says that 4.3% of all of South Dakota’s Regental undergrads and 6.3% of those enrolled at Black Hills State University are under age 18; we may assume that the majority of those students are dual credit-takers. Alas, BHSU implicates dual credit in the $1.5-million shortfall that has led the Spearfish campus to lay off fifteen employees:
“The deficit is from the decline in credit hours,” Hansen said. “Part of our budget comes from credit hours. Our overall credit hours have decreased even as our headcount has increased.”
In 2008, students took a total of 90,908 credit hours. In 2011, that number jumped to 98,176 credit hours and has fallen annually to 91,261 credit hours in 2014.
Hansen said that the increase in total number of students comes in part from the dual enrollment of high school students who are able to take university courses at a greatly reduced rate. Those courses count toward their high school diploma as well as their college transcript.
“We had a high number of high schoolers participate in (dual enrollment), which is great, but they are only taking one or two classes. Even though they show up as a head count in our enrollment, their credit hours are not that of a full student,” she said.
Most fulltime students take 15 credit hours [Mark Watson, “BHSU Makes Staff Cuts,” Black Hills Pioneer, 2015.03.03].
Sure: if students can get cheaper credits during high school, they won’t need to pay for as many full-time credits when they’re on campus. But remember that the Regents reduced the number of credits required for graduation from 128 to 120. That cut means students need one less credit (15 instead of 16) each semester for full-time enrollment. (But hey: now you can’t accuse the Regents of just trying to squeeze more money out of students.)
The bigger problem seems to be that full-time equivalent enrollment has settled back to the pre-recession level at BHSU. Again, from the BOR FY2015 Fact Book (p. 13):
Notice that BHSU’s FTE enrollment has dropped since peaking in 2010, while enrollment down the road at School of Mines has jumped notably. BHSU mentions in Watson’s article that its enrollment numbers from the Northern Hills and Rapid City are “really pretty soft,” but that harder school less than an hour away in Rapid City isn’t having trouble attracting new students.
Mentioning dual credit as part of budget woes contradicts the marketing advantage of the program. Dual credit provides the universities a chance to get their hooks in promising students—you’ve already earned a semester or two of credits at BHSU; why not enroll full-time and finish your degree here after graduation? If I were working admissions, I’d promote the heck out of dual credit as a recruiting tool.
Dual credit serves ambitious South Dakota high school students well; it can also serve our universities as they work to boost their full-time enrollment.