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WUWM's Emily Files reports on education in southeastern Wisconsin.

More Wisconsin students are saving money by taking college classes in high school

Camorra Forest, 17, will be taking classes at MATC and UWM during her senior year of high school at Rufus King.
Emily Files
Camorra Forest, 17, will be taking classes at MATC and UWM during her senior year of high school at Rufus King.

In the upcoming school year, thousands of Wisconsin students will earn college credit before they even graduate high school.

As a recent Wisconsin Policy Forum report points out, so-called “dual enrollment” programs at Wisconsin’s public tech schools and universities have doubled in the last 10 years, now reaching about 70,000 students.

The programs are usually free or low-cost to families, and students who complete dual enrollment courses tend to do better in college. But Milwaukee is behind some other parts of the state in offering these opportunities.

Last spring, when Camorra Forest was a high school junior, she walked into a lecture hall at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Forest was taking two college classes: anatomy and algebra. At first, she had a hard time getting picked for group projects and struggled with the workload.

"I think I was like two assignments behind, and I just felt overwhelmed," Camorra remembers. "I was like I can’t do this. But I pushed through, and I’m glad I did."

Now Camorra is a senior at Rufus King High School in Milwaukee. This year, she’ll take most of her classes at Milwaukee Area Technical College — at no cost to her family.

"I just feel like it was definitely beneficial to take these college classes and it be fully paid for by MPS and stuff," Camorra says. "I was like, we getting this done early and it’s paid for? I’m definitely doing that."

Camorra is one of about 100 MPS students participating in M3 College Connections. It’s a dual enrollment program in which MPS seniors take most of their courses at MATC and UWM.

MATC President Vicki Martin says since the program began five years ago, it’s saved students $2 million on college.

"These students get a head start," Martin says. "They have reduced the cost of college, they are on a faster track to their career and family-sustaining wages, and they gain a lot of confidence as they go through this program."

Most dual enrollment happens in high schools

The College Connections program brings high schoolers like Camorra to college campuses for classes. But most dual enrollment programs take place in high schools, usually taught by high school teachers with master’s degrees who are certified through a college or university.

This form of dual enrollment is known as concurrent enrollment or transcripted credit.

"This is the model that also is more accessible to students because they don’t have to travel to campus," says UWM Office of Dual Enrollment Manager Vicki Bott.
"You know, in third hour, instead of going to English 12, they go to the same room at their high school, same teacher, but instead it’s UWM’s English 101."

The transcripted credit classes offered by tech schools tend to be more career and tech-focused. For example, at Case High School in Racine, Gateway Technical College offers 21 classes, including culinary skills and welding.

Bott says finding high school teachers qualified to teach college courses (who have a master's degree or some graduate school credits), can be a challenge.

"That’s one problem we all have nationally," Bott says. "This real demand for dual enrollment largely falls on the shoulders on high school teachers."

Milwaukee is behind other parts of the state

Bott says UWM is only a few years into its dual enrollment efforts.

"In 2019, UWM decided to make an investment and create this office of dual enrollment," Bott says. "And we really based our office, our policies, and practices on UW-Oshkosh."

Oshkosh is the leading UW school in dual enrollment, serving about 5,000 students in 130 high schools.

Right now, UWM serves about 1,000 dual enrollment students at Milwaukee public and private high schools, and some suburban schools. The main courses offered are English and math.

Extended Lake Effect conversation
UW-Oshkosh Chancellor Andrew Leavitt discusses his school's dual enrollment program.

MATC’s dual enrollment offerings are also behind some of its counterparts, including Gateway Technical College in Racine and Kenosha. Gateway served 6,480 students in 2021-22, compared to 3,375 at MATC.

"We can do better," Martin says. "It's been on my radar for many years now. So it's something we're already growing and are going to continue to grow."

Martin expects MATC's dual enrollment to grow by 10% in the upcoming school year.

The disparities show up in state report card data. Milwaukee Public Schools reported that just 5% of its high school students took a dual enrollment course in 2021-22. Compare that to Racine Unified at 44% and Oshkosh at 22%.

"We’re still definitely working on growing our numbers," says MPS Director of College and Career Readiness John Hill.

Hill says MPS has been focused on Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate classes, which also allow students to earn college credit.

"As a district we've invested heavily into that work, expanding the number of IB schools and really pushing AP courses," Hill says. "At this point, we also now are saying to those same schools, 'Hey, you can also integrate dual enrollment into your school, it’s not mutually exclusive.'"

The advantage of dual enrollment is that students don’t need to take a high-stakes test to earn college credit, which is the case for AP and IB classes.

Camorra Forest, the MPS student, is expected to graduate high school with close to a year’s worth of college credits. She says the main barrier she had to overcome was self-doubt.

"I think my experience overall was enjoyable," Camorra says. "It’s just self-hurdles that I had to get over."

Now Camorra’s feeling confident about college. She wants to go to an HBCU for undergrad and then to medical school. She says students who are thinking about it should try to take college classes while they’re in high school.

Editor's note: WUWM is a service of UW-Milwaukee.


Emily is WUWM's education reporter and a news editor.
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