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Reaching Into High School

Dual enrollment booms at community colleges, but state funding is a challenge.

High school students now account for half the enrollment at many community colleges, but state dollars often don’t follow the students to campus. Also, young people are more positive about AI’s use in school and work, and an essay on why business leaders should view Gen Z as models for change.

Colorado State Capitol, photo by Noah Sandoval on Unsplash

Cents on the Dollar for Dual Enrollment

The booming dual enrollment of high school students in community college has been a lifeline for the sector’s student numbers, which tanked during the pandemic. Yet the surge can be a financial burden for two-year colleges.

That’s because in most parts of the country, two-year colleges receive less funding per dual-enrolled student than they receive for their regular students, according to researchers at Columbia University’s Community College Research Center. They note that dual enrollment may not be financially sustainable where it is offered at a discount.

That warning has taken on new urgency. Dual enrollment—also called concurrent enrollment—doubled in the decade before 2021, with 1.4M students enrolled in those programs, Colleen Connolly reports for Work Shift. More than 1M of those dual-enrolled students were attending community colleges, and they now account for large shares of total enrollment.

“A lot of our colleges are hovering around 50%,” says Jee Hang Lee, president and CEO at the Association of Community College Trustees (ACCT).

Funding for dual-enrolled students often flows to high schools. Community colleges in many cases must negotiate with K-12 districts for a share of that money, including in Texas and Michigan. As a result, dual-enrolled students typically are not fully funded on the community college side.

“We’re talking cents on the dollar,” Lee says. “Sometimes it is a loss leader.”

ACCT last week announced a project to explore how states fund community colleges, including through dual enrollment. It partnered with the American Association of Community Colleges and the State Higher Education Executive Officers on the project, which is funded by the Lumina Foundation.

Action in Colorado: Concurrent enrollment at Colorado’s Community College of Aurora this spring accounted for 66% of the student population.

If they are used correctly and adequately funded, Mordecai Brownlee, the college’s president, says these programs can serve as a “powerful engine toward accessibility, social and economic mobility, workforce development, and reduced student debt within our community.”

Yet the college receives $116 per credit hour through the state’s College Opportunity Fund for students who take the college’s courses at their high school. “The dollar amount must continue to increase for the college to generate revenue,” says Brownlee.

The population of young people is growing faster in Aurora than in other parts of the state. And Brownlee says the community college is responsible for developing the infrastructure necessary to ensure equitable student success. Enrollment growth poses a challenge during peak registration, for example, when staff members must manually register thousands of students because the college’s technology is not up to the task.

Despite dual enrollment’s rising popularity, students of color remain underrepresented in those programs at the college, particularly male students of color. And funding shortfalls contribute to the problem.

“Our school districts lack the resources to transport their students to and from the college,” Brownlee says, “and this transportation barrier prohibits students, primarily from low-socioeconomic high schools, from getting access to concurrent enrollment classes.”

Colorado’s newly extended tuition-free community college program is a step in the right direction, he says, and will be a powerful one-two punch with concurrent enrollment. But Brownlee warns that those state efforts won’t reach their full potential if Colorado fails to adequately support K-12 education, higher education, and workforce development.

However, some Colorado lawmakers are scrutinizing dual enrollment, spurred on in part by a state task force that described a fragmented and confusing constellation of programs, reports Jason Gonzales for Chalkbeat Colorado.

One such program extends high school by a fifth year and allows students to attend college on-campus during that year. It has grown rapidly, with 1.7K students expected to participate next year at a projected cost of $17M, Gonzales reports, more than quadruple what the state spent on the program in 2022. And while the program was aimed at underserved students, half of its participants are white and three quarters are middle-class.

The state’s Legislature capped enrollment in the program and will study its program’s costs and results.

While lawmakers say there are valid questions about whether the dual enrollment program is helping the students it was intended to help, some educators defend it. Three quarters of students in the Aurora Public Schools are from relatively low-income backgrounds, says David West, director of college and career success for the schools.

“Concurrent enrollment is about opening opportunities and additional doors that our students may not even realize at this point in time exist,” West told Gonzales.

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Generative AI’s Use Comes Into Focus

Young people worldwide are much more likely to use generative AI on a regular basis than are older adults, according to recent research. Fully half of young Americans (51%) have used generative AI, a recent survey found. Yet only 4% report being daily users.

The most commonly reported uses were getting information (53%) and brainstorming (51%), according to the national survey of roughly 1.3K U.S. teens and young adults, which was conducted by Hopelab, Common Sense Media, and the Center for Digital Thriving at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

Significant usage differences exist across racial lines. Among those who have used the technology, Black and Latino young people were more likely to use it in many activities.

For example, Black respondents were more likely than their white peers to turn to the tech to get information (72% vs. 41%), brainstorm ideas (68% vs. 42%), and to help in their job (33% vs. 10%). Similar gaps were found between Latino and white respondents. And both Latino and Black respondents were more likely to use AI to write code and make images and music.

Skills of the Future: The survey found that young people have nuanced views about the technology’s impacts. Many were excited about potential benefits like broader access to information and a boost for creativity. However, some worried about job loss and privacy issues, among other concerns.

Conversations about AI tools and their potential to help teaching and learning in K-12 schools are worthwhile, says Alex Kotran, co-founder and CEO of the AI Education Project. Yet more important questions loom about the technology’s impact on the labor market in coming years, he says, when today’s students are trying to break into a career. And those answers don’t exist.

“The challenge for schools is we’re going to have to adapt to an environment where we don’t know what the jobs of the future are,” Kotran says in a forthcoming episode of Work Shift’s podcast, The Cusp. “What we can say with a bit more certainty is what are the skills of the future.”

Gen AI in College and Work: OpenAI last week rolled out ChatGPT Edu, which it describes as an affordable way for universities to responsibly bring AI to campus. The company said it hopes to build on successful experiments that have emerged from a handful of initial university partners.

The suite of generative AI tools are powered by GPT-4o. They include the ability to build custom versions of ChatGPT, with higher message limits and robust security and data privacy controls. Conversations and data from ChatGPT Edu are not used to train OpenAI models, reported Lauren Coffey for Inside Higher Ed.

Meanwhile, AI use in the workplace has risen 60% since last September, Slack found in a global survey of 10K desk workers. A third (32%) of respondents have used AI for work, with half of that group using AI tools at least weekly. The top tasks cited were writing assistance, research to learn about new topics, automation of workflows, and summarization.

The youngest workers show the most enthusiasm for AI, the survey found. But training remains inadequate, with just 15% of desk workers strongly agreeing they have the education and training to use AI effectively.

Slack has experimented with short bites of AI training for its employees, providing 10 to 15 minutes of daily content. “We really wanted to start small,” says Christina Janzer, the company’s senior vice president of research and analytics. She echoes other experts in encouraging people to give the tools a whirl.

The Kicker: “Pick one thing on your to-do list and just try it,” Janzer says.

Open Tabs

Policy and AI
The U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee hosted its first hearing on AI and its potential to fuel economic growth. Interest from the broad, bicameral committee is a sign of how enmeshed the issue has become with broader policy debates, Cristiano Lima-Strong reported for The Washington Post. Experts described possible efficiency and economic gains during the hearing, with one calling AI training a priority for national security and welfare.

AI and Productivity
Economic theory and available data justify a more modest, realistic outlook for the productivity benefits of AI than widely cited predictions from Goldman Sachs and the McKinsey Global Institute, MIT’s Daron Acemoglu writes for Project Syndicate. Using estimates from recent studies on the percentage of tasks that will be affected by AI and related technologies, he predicts an increase in “total factor productivity” of just 0.66% over 10 years.

Workforce Representation
More Latinos are earning college credentials, but the nation’s largest minority group generally remains underpaid and underrepresented in the workforce, reports the AP’s Fernanda Figueroa. Many Latinos don’t get beyond associate degrees and certificates because they have to work in college and often lack support to progress with their education or move up the career ladder, said Deborah Santiago of Excelencia in Education.

Performance Funding
Nearly all states publicly report data on student success at public colleges, and about two-thirds report workforce outcomes data, according to an analysis from the Education Strategy Group, which also looked at K-12 education. Among the 29 states that use some form of outcomes-based funding mechanism for higher ed, just six incorporate workforce outcomes. Only a handful of states track college ROI and value.

Skills First
California’s public sector employs 2.3M+ workers, with high demand for entry-level jobs in healthcare, administrative roles, IT, education, and public safety, according to a report from Calbright College and Lightcast, which calls for a shift to skills-based hiring. Talent shortages are common across almost every industry and region, with fewer than one local person available to fill a job for 31% of public sector occupations.

Diversity and AI
Howard University will build a new “design and make lab” to equip engineers to work with AI and other fast-advancing technologies, supported by a $5M gift from the software company Autodesk. Only 3% of mechanical engineers in the country are Black, and the company is focused on diversifying the field while preparing students for AI-driven work.

Job Moves
Jamienne Studley will step down as president of the WASC Senior College and University Commission at the end of 2024, the accrediting agency announced. Studley has led WSCUC since 2018. She previously served in the U.S. Department of Education, most recently during the Obama administration, and as the president of Skidmore College.

Thanks for reading. Let me know what I missed? —PF