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The High School/Community College "Dual Enrollment" Opportunity

Here on the Westside of Los Angeles, we’ve all seen the billboard-sized Santa Monica College ads on the sides of the Big Blue Buses. The ads brag about how well Santa Monica College students do when it comes to transferring to UCLA.

In an era of bone-crushing student debt, those who start at a more affordable community college can save a lot on tuition bills.  And if a community college can boost the chances of a student getting into a UC, that’s a big deal.

Covid hit community colleges hard. There was an across-the-board loss in enrollment.  Community colleges are becoming increasingly innovative when it comes to making their offerings more attractive. This was the focus of a recent conference held at East Los Angeles College. Several heavy hitters from the world of education participated.

“Dual enrollment” programs allow high school students to take classes at a nearby community college. A high school student who isn’t wild about 11th-grade Shakespeare might love taking a course in web design, taught at the local community college. 

Dr. Sonya Christian lays out "Vision 2030," a plan to boost equity in society via community colleges.

Several heavy hitters headlined the conference, including Dr. Francisco Rodriguez (Chancellor of the LA Community College District), Alberto Carvalho (Superintendent of LAUSD), Dr. Sonya Christian (Chancellor of California Community Colleges), Assemblyman Mike Fong and Andra Hoffman (president of the California Community Colleges Board of Governors).  

The benefits of dual enrollment include:

  1. High school students get to take classes they could never take at their high school campus, keeping their minds stimulated.  An engaged student is more likely to stay enrolled.

  2. Taking in high school students helps community colleges fill slots that might otherwise go unoccupied.

  3. High school students don’t have to pay tuition to attend a community college, but they can accumulate the credits, thus reducing the potential burden of student loans.  Dual enrollment can start as early as ninth grade.

  4. Once a high school student enters the community college ecosystem, the student is exposed to the possibility of attending a four-year college. A big part of the community college mission is to prepare interested students to successfully transfer into a four-year college.

  5. Four-year colleges benefit because community colleges are good at preparing their students to transfer into a CSU, UC or private college. Some college admissions professionals think community college grads are more motivated than students who enter straight out of high school.

  6. Think of this like building a pipeline: Community colleges draw students from “feeder” high school districts nearby; similarly, community colleges become feeders for UCs, CSUs and private colleges in the region – or beyond.

  7. All agreed: There are bureaucratic silos that need to be overcome. More and more, student data is being shared among schools and students so students can find the right school, based on their individual talents and goals – and schools can attract the right students, based on their offerings.  It’s a win-win.

  8. Not all students are meant to go to universities.  At a community college, a student can learn practical skills that can lead directly to well-paying jobs.  Many nurse practitioners, sound engineers, computer networking specialists and others get their start at a community college. 

Dr. Carvalho of LAUSD.   

What struck me at this conference was how motivated the dual-enrollment crowd is.  These educational professionals view themselves as front-line warriors in the movement to bring about economic opportunity and social justice.


 “We are the poverty busters,” said Dr. Alberto Román, president of East LA College. “We are accelerators for equity, opportunity and justice.”

“No longer will your destiny be determined by your ZIP Code,” said Dr. Francisco Rodriguez, Chancellor of the Los Angeles Community College District. “Gone are the days of indentured servitude for those with less education.”

The cheers from the auditorium were genuine and uplifting.

Dr. Rodriguez welcomes the crowd of educators and administrators.

Dr. Alberto Carvalho, Superintendent of LAUSD, said the vast majority of LAUSD high schools now participate in a dual enrollment program, and that the numbers will only grow.

For many first-generation students, community colleges offer a perfect starting place. Community colleges have been absorbing and accommodating underprivileged and underrepresented students for years.

Assemblyman Mike Fong (D-Alhambra), a champion of the community college system, stated: “Dual enrollment has been a game-changer.”

“Start here, go anywhere” is a slogan I heard repeated throughout the day. "Our time is now," is another one.

East Los Angeles College hosted the conference on dual enrollment.

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