Community college had offered free ‘dual enrollment’
Thousands of high school students, including those in Beacon and at Haldane in Cold Spring, will have to pay to take college-level courses next fall if a new Dutchess Community College policy stands.
For decades, juniors and seniors at the schools and 20 others in Dutchess and Putnam counties have been able to take college-level math, economics, psychology, foreign language and English courses for free through a partnership with DCC. The courses are taught at the high schools by teachers certified through the college.
In many cases, especially within the SUNY system, credits earned through DCC can be transferred upon graduation, giving students a head start in college. Haldane also partners with another SUNY school, the University at Albany, but students must pay $160 per course (or $80 for low income) to receive college credits.
DCC President Peter Jordan notified superintendents this fall that the college plans to begin charging $64 per credit hour, or a third of its standard tuition rate for state residents. Typically, DCC classes taught in high schools earn three credits, so the cost for each would be $192.
The change was scheduled to take effect in the spring of 2023 but the superintendents were able to persuade DCC to wait until the fall.
The program serves more than 3,000 students each year, according to the college. Beacon High School students occupy about 330 seats in the courses for this academic year, although many students take more than one class. Students from Arlington, the largest district in Dutchess County, occupy about 1,600 seats.
During the Beacon school board meeting on Monday (Nov. 21), Ari Carmona, one of the board’s student advisers, said that she’s earning 13 DCC credits this year. Given the cost of traveling to visit colleges, plus application fees, Carmona predicted “a huge uproar” among students if they also have to pay DCC tuition next year, even at the reduced rate.
“It will affect students’ motivation to continue moving up in their academic careers,” she said.
The Beacon district cannot pay the tuition, which would be around $140,000 during 2023-24, because it would be an unfair use of taxpayer funds, said Superintendent Matt Landahl.
During the meeting, Landahl said DCC justified the change by saying it would keep the school compliant with state law, a claim disputed by the school board’s attorneys. Landahl said that while it’s legal for DCC to charge tuition for its high school classes, the law does not require it. A DCC representative called it a SUNY mandate.
From 2011 to 2021, SUNY college and university enrollment fell by more than 92,000 students, or nearly 20 percent. At SUNY community colleges, the plunge was more dramatic, at 34 percent.
“If you were running a community college, you’d be looking at your budget and figuring out what kind of plugs can I find for the holes,” said Craig Wolf, a member of the Beacon school board. “We’re one of the plugs.”
A study released in 2020 by Columbia University’s Teachers College and the nonprofit Aspen Institute found that, nationwide, 12 percent of white students participate in dual enrollment partnerships with local community colleges but only 8 percent of Hispanic students and 7 percent of Black students do so. Since they were first popularized in the 1990s, only 1 in 5 “dual enrollment” programs has narrowed or eliminated race and income gaps in access, the researchers found.
A group of Dutchess superintendents, including Landahl, said just that in a letter to Betty Rosa, the state education commissioner, and the Board of Regents, noting that “equitable access will be lost for those students” who cannot afford the fee.
Landahl said Monday that DCC had expressed willingness to work with individual districts on financial aid, “but there are families struggling financially across the whole county, and certainly in Beacon.”
The Beacon school board sent its own letter to state education officials the next day, pointing out that nearly 50 percent of the students in Beacon qualify as economically disadvantaged and referring to the state’s guidance on equitable course access.
On Wednesday, Dutchess Legislator Yvette Valdes Smith, one of two Democratic legislators who represent Beacon, said that she had asked Gregg Pulver, the chair of the Legislature, to appoint her as a liaison to DCC. Valdes Smith said she would make it a “top priority” to negotiate with the college.