Starting this fall, Florida high schools must find a way to pay for students taking college-classes as part of the state’s highly popular dual enrollment program. Dual enrollment programs are some of the most powerful tools high schools have to get students ready for college-level work and spur them to enroll in higher education. Now with a new law mandating that high schools must find a way to split the tab with local community colleges, school districts across the state have to find ways to keep the program alive.

In Pasco and Hernando counties, local school districts are still balking at a policy that requires them to pay $37.73 for every high school student taking credit-bearing college classes.

In Panama City in the Panhandle, officials have moved to restricting high school students to only taking dual-enrollment classes already offered at their high school or attending community college classes during the evenings, weekends or summer sessions.

State law requires that these dual-enrollment courses be offered tuition-free to high school students, but with the financial burden shifting from colleges to high schools, some districts have had to curb their offerings. In central Florida, in Lake County, students have been restricted to taking just two dual-enrollment offerings, pushing down enrollment numbers from 801 two years ago to just 590 this fall.

Other school districts have pursued more innovative solutions, even as a temporary stopgap. In Volusia County, existing dual-enrollment programs remain in place. District officials pursued an agreement with Daytona State College that has the higher education institution reimbursing the public school district for $1.5 million.  That arrangement, however, is not expected to last beyond this year.

In Alachua County, home to Gainesville and the University of Florida, officials said the new budget law did not affect their dual enrollment programs at all, as they were already engaged in a cost-sharing program with the UF and Santa Fe Community College.

According to a survey of seniors graduating in 2009, nearly 90% of dual enrollment students immediately enrolled in higher education after graduation and were considered college-ready. Among low-income students in dual-enrollment, those numbers remained a highly impressive 79%.  During the 2011-12 school year, more than 49,000 Florida students completed dual enrollment courses, numbers that double the figure from a decade earlier.

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