New law may result in fewer private school students taking dual enrollment courses

Tampa Catholic High School is one of many private schools where students take dual enrollment courses.

A new law aimed at giving private high school students greater access to college courses appears to be having the opposite effect, according to private school operators. Instead, potentially hundreds of students may be shut out of dual enrollment courses  because their private schools are being asked to pay costs they can’t afford.

Tampa Catholic High School is a prime example. Principal Robert Lees said he was recently told that his long-term agreement with Hillsborough Community College, which allowed his school to offer dual enrollment classes at no cost to students, is now going to come with a $40,000 price tag beginning in 2019.

Said Lees: “Absorbing that cost on our end is not an option.”

The new provisions, contained in a wide-ranging law, HB 7055, that was signed into law in March, were designed to eliminate multiple barriers to private and home school students who want to take dual enrollment courses.

One of those provisions removed the requirement that articulation agreements – the documents that allow students to take certain classes at nearby colleges—must specify whether the private schools are responsible for tuition. But educators were not clear on whether that meant that colleges or the private schools would pay the costs of dual enrollment.

Sen. Dennis Baxley

Private school officials were waiting for clarification from the state Department of Education, but a recent memo on the bill did not address the provisions. DOE spokesperson Audrey Walden instead cited a memo from Madeline Pumariega, chancellor of the Florida College System. Pumariega oversees the state’s 28 public colleges, which many private school students attend when they participate in dual enrollment.

Pumariega wrote that even though the new law no longer requires compensation “as a minimum requirement for private school dual enrollment articulation agreements,” it does not prevent colleges from charging a private school for dual enrollment because “previous language (in the law) neither granted nor barred the charging of the private school.”

State Sen. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, who sponsored the provisions, said he did not intend to address who covers the cost of dual enrollment for private school students.

“The primary purpose was to affirm that everyone has access to the program,” he said. “If we remove that barrier and clarify that everybody has access to dual enrollment, we can go back and see how it affects the funding discussion if that is the reason people are not getting access.”

Baxley said further legislation may now be needed to spell out the payment methods for dual enrollment.

Dual enrollment by private school students has been declining, even before this year’s change in the law. According to the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops, the number of students in private schools participating in dual enrollment has declined by 60 percent in recent years. In the 2011-2012 school year, more than 7,000 private school students participated in dual enrollment compared to only 3,026 in 2016-17.

A change in the law in 2013 shifted the cost of dual enrollment programs from colleges to school districts. But it did not address private schools, meaning many of them now must absorb the cost of college courses for high school students themselves.

James Herzog, who works on education policy for the Catholic Bishops Conference, said he had hoped the new law would not leave private schools saddled with the costs of dual enrollment. But many private school officials believe the chancellor’s memo has given colleges a further green light to charge private schools.

Hillsborough Community College, for example, had never charged private schools for dual enrollment until this school year. HCC spokesperson Ashley Carl said the college was forced to begin charging privates schools because of its own budget constraints.

“We have had to keep tuition flat for the last seven or eight years,” she said. “Our fixed costs are going up.”

At Tampa Catholic, principal Lees said his teachers had been allowed to serve as adjunct professors as part of the dual enrollment program. The new $40,000 cost has left him with few alternatives.

“I don’t want to pull the rug from the teachers that are doing this work,” he said. “Not to compensate them for that doesn’t seem like a good option. But if I pass the cost onto the parents it will have a negative effect on the program.”

The change could affect 183 students who currently participate at Tampa Catholic.

Avatar photo

BY Livi Stanford

Livi Stanford is former associate editor of redefinED. She spent her earlier professional career working at newspapers in Kansas, Massachusetts and Florida. Prior to her work at Step Up For Students, she covered the Lake County School Board, County Commission and local legislative delegation for the Daily Commercial in Leesburg. She has a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Kansas.