Dual Enrollment Bills Miss Target

House and Senate bills to implement Governor Phil Bryant’s dual enrollment drop-out prevention program miss the target.

Bryant’s “Mississippi Works” program allows high school students on the verge of dropping out to dual enroll in community college workforce training programs. The intent is for students to learn a trade while still pursuing a high school diploma.

Both Senate Bill 2792 and House Bill 864 assume “workforce training programs” mean credit classes in career and technical programs at community colleges. The bills tell school superintendents to identify credit classes at the community colleges that can be substituted for high school classes.

This approach may work well for competent students anxious to get a one-year certificate or two-year associate’s degree in a community college trade or technical program. But, expecting potential drop-outs with basic skills deficiencies who are unresponsive to classroom instruction at high schools to become engaged and succeed in classroom instruction at community colleges flies in the face of current research.

Research on what works shows an intervention bridge period and/or a different instructional model are needed for students with basic skills deficiencies. Basic skills can be thought of as those essential skills needed in the workplace. The National Career Readiness Certificate tests employees’ for these skills: apply mathematics, read for information, and locate information.

A successful Portland, Oregon, program provided short-term, intensive basic skills instruction as a bridge program for students before allowing them to enroll in certificate programs. Denver’s FastStart program and Washington State’s I-BEST program showed “contextualized instruction” with wrap-around support services led to increased basic skills gains and a greater likelihood that a student would earn college credit and a credential. Contextualized instruction blends trade-related technical skills training with intensive basic skills instruction.

At Mississippi community colleges, most basic skills instruction and technical skills training occur in short-term, non-credit workforce training classes, not the credit classes. The House and Senate bills do not include non-credit classes, contextualized learning, or any intensive bridge programs.

As a result, students with basic skills deficiencies who don’t score high enough on college placement tests will have to take “developmental classes” before entering most career and technical programs. The record of student progress through college developmental classes to certificates and degrees has been abysmal.

Legislators wanting a “Mississippi Works” program that really works should read “Beyond Basic Skills” by the Center for Postsecondary and Economic Success (to find Google “Beyond Basic Skills”).

One last thought – Emily DeRocco, outgoing president of The Manufacturing Institute and former Department of Labor official in the last Bush administration, says basic skills training should become the top priority for state Workforce Investment Act funds. Using WIA funds to bridge students from high school into community college dual enrollment is something legislators might consider.

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