By Tia Lynn Ivey
A new bill expected to pass next week is aiming to curb Georgia’s wildly successful, but increasingly expensive, Dual Enrollment Program, in which high school students can earn college credits. The new bill proposes cutting funding for the program, capping the dual enrollment program to 30 credit hours per student, restricting the type of classes students can take, and prohibiting ninth and 10th graders from participating.
The bill would eliminate “elective courses,” such as fine arts from the program. Proponents of the bill believe the program is too big and unsustainable financially. Opponents believe the cuts will result in more Georgia college students saddled with hefty student loan debt.
Morgan County High School (MCHS) currently has about 80 students participating in the Dual Enrollment program. According to Superintendent of Morgan County Schools Dr. James Woodard, the bill wouldn’t impact Morgan County severely since Morgan County already only allows mostly seniors and only a handful of juniors to participate in the Dual Enrollment Program.
“But it would impact how many credit hours they can earn and what kind of classes they could take in the program though,” said Woodard. Morgan County Schools partners with Georgia Military College and Athens Technical College to offer a wide variety of classes to Morgan County High School Students in the program.
“The bill does not allow for elective classes to be counted under dual enrollment, so all the classes would have to be academic or career technical.
“It doesn’t affect the number of students in the program but it wlll affect the kind of classes they can take. The bill does not allow for elective classes to be counted under dual enrollment, so all the classes would have to be academic or career technical,” explained Woodard.
According to the Atlanta Constitution Journal, “Students who want to take more than 30 credit hours would have to pay for additional classes. The legislation has a grandfather clause for current dual enrollment students, but there are credit hour restrictions for some students.”
The bill, supported by Governor Brian Kemp, has already passed the Georgia Senate by a margin of 34-18. The Georgia House of Representatives is expected to vote on House Bill 444 next week and it is expected to pass it.
State Representative Dave Belton, who represents Morgan County and once served on Morgan County Board of Education, plans to vote in favor of the bill, though reluctantly.
“I hate to do it,” said Belton. “I love the Dual-Enrollment Program. It has been immensely successful, almost too successful. It’s getting too big. We are trying to put some guard rails on it. We want to preserve the program without bankrupting it.”
According to AJC, the number of students enrolled in the program has nearly doubled since 2016.
“Costs for the program allowing high-school students to take post-secondary classes swelled from around $23 million when the program was launched in 2015 to around $140 million in 2018. The bill would cap enrollment enough to keep the program within its roughly $100 million budget for this year, officials say.”
Belton believes the cuts to the program will still give students a wide variety of opportunities and many students won’t be affected at all.
“The average student enrolled in the program only takes 17 hours of credits, so most students like that won’t be affected. However, some were taking up to 70 credit hours. That’s almost your entire college degree,” said Belton. “But we still have the HOPE Scholarship and the HOPE Career Grant to help students attend college after high school. The program will still offer all the core classes like English, math, science, social studies and foreign language, plus the career technical courses.”
According to Belton, if the bill passes, there will still be a total of 7,205 classes available for students to take in the Dual Enrollment program between academic courses and a career technical courses. Belton also noted that the bill will allow 10th graders to start taking technical career courses, too.
“It will not include fine arts anymore, health and physical education, or other interpersonal social skill classes,” noted Belton.
Critics of the bill argue that that the cuts and restrictions will hurt aspiring Georgia college student in an era when student loan debt is at an all-time high.
“The bottom line is students who are seeking higher education are going to end up with more debt,” said Sen. Nan Orrock, D-Atlanta.