Community colleges are drawing fewer students who are 18 to 24 years old -- and a lot more who are earning "dual enrollment" credits while still in high school, writes Hechinger's Jill Barshay.
There may be 2 million dual enrollees, nearly double the number taking at least one Advanced Placement exam.
The rise is "meteoric," says Brian An, a University of Iowa sociologist. Nearly 20 percent of community college students nationwide -- 38 percent in Iowa -- are dual enrollees still in high school. At 31 community colleges, the majority of students are in high school.
Students see dual enrollment as easier than AP because they can earn college credit by passing the course, says An. Earning AP credit requires doing well on an exam.
"Community colleges oversee roughly 70 percent of dual enrollments with four-year colleges running the remaining 30 percent," writes Barshay. "In most cases, high schoolers never step foot on a college campus; the class is taught in a high school classroom by a high school teacher."
The quality of the courses is uneven, says John Fink of the Community College Research Center at Teachers College, Columbia. However, overall, dual enrollees go farther in school than similar students who took only high school-level courses.
Community colleges lost a lot of enrollment from traditional students during the pandemic, and haven't seen much of a rebound due to the strong job market.