DCC Plans to Charge Fees at High Schools

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. 

3 thoughts on “DCC Plans to Charge Fees at High Schools

  1. If you are a parent or student in the Beacon City School District, and this impacts you, please consider attending the Beacon High PTSO meeting on Nov. 30. Principal Dwyer will present the facts, and together with the PTSO will provide actionable items for those who wish to advocate. To join the meeting via Zoom, please email us at [email protected] to receive the agenda and the link.

    Ellenwood is president of the Beacon High School PTSO.

  2. As you reported, Dutchess Community College has decided to end a decades-long policy of offering dual enrollment courses at no cost to high school students in Dutchess County. This sudden decision will have a severe impact on our students, nearly 50 percent of whom qualify as economically disadvantaged.

    Dual-enrollment courses offer students the opportunity to take college-level classes and earn free college credits during high school. These courses are an essential way for students to grow their experience, helping them to see college as more accessible and a place that they belong.

    DCC’s decision comes at a time when college is more expensive than ever and students are still recovering from two years of interrupted learning. The equity gap between students with and without means is expanding. We fear that economically disadvantaged students, as well as students who are ambivalent about attending college, will no longer consider college an option if they don’t have the opportunity to experience a college class at no cost and in the comfort of their high school.

    In its 2019 guidance on Equitable Course Access, the New York State Education Department emphasized that educational equity “includes a focus on increasing students’ access to rigorous learning opportunities” and that districts should ensure that “no single measure excludes participation” in advanced coursework. DCC’s decision could make cost the single measure that excludes the participation of many students.

    As Betty Rosa, the chancellor of the state Board of Regents, put it: “If we want to create a truly equitable education system, we must ensure that every child, regardless of their race or socioeconomic status, has access to the same coursework as their peers.”

    If students have to choose classes with cost in mind, many will make the difficult decision to go with other courses that may not challenge them or strengthen their resume to the same extent. This would create a two-tiered system within our high school, in complete opposition to our goal of providing equitable opportunities for all students.

    The district would face prohibitively high costs to offer free, comparable alternatives for students who could not afford dual enrollment tuition. We estimate the cost to students would be more than $140,000 per year. Because of the laws around gifts of public funds, we wouldn’t be able to absorb this burden into our budget, even if we wanted to.

    The district currently offers these dual enrollment courses to students at minimal cost to DCC. Our district and/or students pay for the materials, books, faculty, utilities and space provided to teach these classes in our building. Our teachers qualify to teach these courses through our own resources and are in no way compensated by DCC directly for their work.

    We hope that legislators, state education officials and community members will join us in urging DCC leadership and its board of trustees to consider an option that does not exclude our students — the future professionals, leaders and citizens of our community — from the educational opportunities that they deserve.

    Heuer is president of the Beacon school board.

  3. I’m working with organizations in Massachusetts on the rollout of plans for Early College, which is a close cousin of dual enrollment and represents the most interesting thing happening in American education. New York state lags behind Massachusetts and other states in implementing robust and sensible Early College programs, as well as traditional dual-enrollment programs.

    I feel awful for Dutchess Community College, parents and school districts that have to fight about something that Albany Democrats should have done years ago, following in the footsteps of work done in New York City and Buffalo for the last 20 years. It’s been bipartisan work in red, blue and purple states for the last two decades. It’s possible that Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, the new Democratic leader in the U.S. House, will lead a charge to incentivize states that lag behind — his Brooklyn district has one of the best Early College partnerships.

    Donnelly is director of the Early College Initiative at the City University of New York.