By CRAIG FLAGG
For Home Page Media
The understanding of and opportunity for a high school student to participate in dual enrollment for college credit may be widespread now, but that hasn’t been the case for all that long.
In fact, as director of off-campus sites at Vol State Community College in Gallatin, Shanna Jackson began work that opened the way for major strides that have since brought opportunity to hundreds, if not thousands, of high school students throughout Middle Tennessee.
She says that in 2006, she was basically told, “Here’s the dual-enrollment program, let’s do something with it.”
And, boy, did she ever.
Jackson, who has been named next president of Nashville State Community College, soon launched a program at high schools in the Vol State service area. In 2007, her work was the foundation for her doctoral project and doctoral degree.
“I just saw a great opportunity to expand it, and I decided to survey my dual-enrollment students,” Jackson says. “And because I had great relationships with the high schools, they allowed me to do that, because normally they do not want you to survey high school students.”
Her survey asked her dual-enrollment students two things: How did you hear about it and how did you decide to take it?
She found out that they were hearing about it from their guidance counselors, but their parents were the reasons why they had made the decision to follow through.
“So I kinda flipped the model and started talking to the parents about dual enrollment and explained the benefits of it to the parents, so that they could help their student make a good decision,” Jackson says.
She recalls that in many cases, parents were unaware that it was even an option.
“Then we went beyond the guidance counselors to try to talk to the directors of schools, who then started talking to their principals,” Jackson says. “Because a guidance counselor could make the decision (and say), ‘Who am I going to tell about this opportunity,’ where, if it is school-wide or system-wide, then everybody should know.”
What she found through her research was that, when left up to guidance counselors, the racial makeup of dual-enrollment students was about 90 percent white.
“So all these other students aren’t even hearing about it, or if they are, they’re not telling their parents about it and (were not able to) explain the benefits of it.” Jackson says.
“And we need that equity. We need all students to come up. We need all students to have access. That was important to me that it doesn’t just become an issue of who can afford it.
“So then the dual-enrollment grant came, which really was an equalizer to make it more affordable for all students.”
Furthermore, her research showed that for students who had high GPAs and high ACT scores, taking dual-enrollment courses resulted in little difference in terms of academic success.
“But every other category, those that had dual enrollment, it was statistically significant,” Jackson says. “It was a big difference between those that had dual enrollment and those who didn’t.”
Given the opportunity for dual enrollment, these lower-achieving students received vital exposure to what college life might be like.
“So they understood the demands, they understood the difference, that, yes, they grade differently, or I need to be ready to take a class two days a week versus coming every day for high school,” Jackson says. “I just believe in it very strongly that it really prepares students for college.
“I can’t think of any downsides to it. In many cases, it doesn’t impact high school GPA. I think when it does impact high school GPA and (students) don’t take the course seriously, that’s the downfall. If you don’t take it seriously, you may not graduate from high school, because it is your high school credit as well.”
With her research complete and Tennessee Education Lottery money now available, the impact of broadening the understanding of dual enrollment has become a monumental step in the field of higher education.
“In a four- or five-year period of time, it grew at 155 percent,” Jackson says. “It became about providing more access to students” who never would have thought about going to college.
Now these students are realizing they really can do it. They just may not realize that Shanna Jackson is one major reason why.