Dual Credit for Free: Why That Might Not be the Best Idea
Now that I am approaching my mid-50s, I find myself in a strange situation. I have become an experienced homeschooler and an experienced educator. In a blink of an eye, I have become a homeschool parent who has graduated three students as well as a teacher of hundreds of homeschool students. My personal experience is that of my own three children, all of whom took dual credit courses at the local community college for a price that was extremely low or with an online provider for dual credit. Ultimately, while some courses and instructors were good, I’m going to share why dual credit at your local community college may not be the bargain you think it is and why you should give careful consideration to any university provider of asynchronous courses. I will also explain why Excelsior Classes created a platform for offering live, online dual credit courses through a partnership with LeTourneau University, a constellation of courses which I feel uniquely addresses needs in the homeschool market.
Let’s look at several reasons why taking live, online dual credit courses makes great sense when compared to your local college. I’ll even provide a full disclosure of my children’s experience.
- REASON #1: Engagement
- REASON #2: Environment
- REASON #3: Future Payout
REASON #1: Engagement
One excellent reason for taking dual credit is having a live teacher who gets to know your student and who creates an online community of learners. Many universities offer only an asynchronous model for dual credit. This means students must read lots of computer pages full of information with sporadic taped messages. There isn’t a live session in which a professor lectures, introduces material, or offers review. A group who meets regularly making progress towards certain goals is not a featured part of the model.
Having a live teacher creates engagement and shared experiences. It creates energy and provides avenues for detailed and individualized feedback. When searching for options, make sure you look for live sessions for your student.
REASON #2: Environment
Dual credit in many states is free and readily available. It seems like a no-brainer, but parents are wise to give careful consideration. Why? What’s better than free, right?
Well, when you open the door to the local community college, you open the door to the world and all that entails. According to College.com, the average age of a community college student is 29, and that age difference is huge. Parents should not assume that students will be of the same age as their own students. Parents also should be aware that literature assigned, paradigms presented, and material covered may not be in line with their own views. If you are a Christian, be prepared.
If cultivating a Christian worldview is important to you, consider continuing that route for a couple more years. Having a Christian educator work with your student and mentor them is critical in the teen years. My own children did not take all of their classes at the college locally as I wanted them to still have Christian educators. I think this is a child by child decision for parents to make, but it’s one to make with eyes wide open. English, psychology, and history are all areas in which a Christian worldview could be emphasized but frequently is not.
REASON #3: Future Payout
The “future payout” is a reason that is most often overlooked. Again, most people think, “It’s almost free, or it’s inexpensive, and that IS the future payout or benefit.”
I do not agree that this reason, the cost, is the primary consideration. In fact, I think the future payout is the education itself. I assert that some community college courses and instructors are subpar and actually may sublimate your student’s future academic success.
With an average age of 29, with students who may be coming back to school after a long break or who may not have been ready for a university experience, community college courses may not meet the rigor a university-level class would demand. This is not always the case, and this should not be construed that all teachers or classes are not worthwhile; nevertheless, my own experience has shown me that the courses my children had already taken online with outside instructors were more exacting and college-preparatory than the courses in which they participated. (Those are their words, not my own.) Another former student of mine reported: “I just wanted to give you a little update on college and say thank you for teaching me so well in high school! I’m currently in English 101, and it’s actually my least favorite class because it is everything you and my other [Excelsior] English/writing teachers taught me in high school. You also taught me better than my professor and GSA have been teaching me! I’ve [received] A’s on all my papers so far while a lot of other students have been struggling, so thank you so much for preparing me so well for college. I miss you and having you as a teacher dearly…”
Based on my own children’s reports and those of my former students (like above), I knew that many students’ educational goals required a firmer foundation than what was being provided in some of their courses. A firm foundation in English is essential for upper level work and later graduate work. Dual credit and lower level courses are training ground for what is to come; it’s important that the courses are rigorous enough in content and discipline so that students are prepared for what is to come.
While some courses and instructors were a good fit with academic rigor, not all were. This is something to watch out for and to try to plan around. Some courses may be taken as “honors,” and our experience was that those were always well done (lots of work, but academically gratifying).
Hopefully you have a better idea of what to look for in your online provider as well as in your local community college. While many courses are transferable, if education is your goal, then you are wise to give pause and consider carefully.
Jodi Guerra is an Instructor and Coordinator with Excelsior Classes, a consortium of online teachers dedicated to excellence in online instruction. She has been involved in the education of children and adults serving in public schools, private schools, and corporate America. For the last twenty years, Jodi has worked with homeschool students in private classes, tutoring situations, and in the virtual world of online education. She seeks to make every learning situation fun yet productive. Besides teaching, Jodi loves to read and finds both cooking and sewing to be creative expressions.