In the United States, 82 percent of public high schools offer dual enrollment programs, which allow students to concurrently take courses at local community colleges while working toward their high school diplomas.
These programs offer students the opportunity to better prepare for college, reduce the cost of a degree, and even graduate in less time. Data shows that they are especially impactful for students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds.
Despite the clear value of these programs, dual-enrolled students are not eligible for federal financial aid since they are not yet high school graduates. During the COVID-19 pandemic, this has also excluded them from receiving money from the federal Higher Education Emergency Relief Funds (HEERF) initiative.
But the unique status of dual-enrolled students does not protect them from financial need. In 2020, the Hope Center found that nearly three out of five college students were experiencing basic needs insecurity, including challenges paying for housing, transportation, and food.
Recognizing the unmet need of dual enrollment students, Compton College partnered with Believe in Students and Edquity to offer emergency aid to this vulnerable population. Qualitative and quantitative data gathered at the conclusion of the pilot program revealed several key takeaways.
Basic needs crises are by nature time-sensitive, yet traditional emergency aid programs often take weeks to deliver funds. Further, many students in crisis are unbanked, making checks and ACH payments unrealistic options. During this pilot, students’ use of the Edquity app cut the application and processing time to 24 hours, and over 50% of students chose to receive funds via pre-paid debit cards. The additional wait for pre-paid cards to arrive in the mail remains a challenge.
Compared to students who attend college after graduating from high school, dual-enrolled students are more likely to live with parents or other family members. Many students in the pilot program used their emergency grants to both address their own needs and assist their families with necessities like food and rent. That additional stability can make all the difference for students struggling to remain enrolled not only in college but also in high school.
Part of the success of the Compton College pilot can be attributed to Edquity’s simple, minimally-invasive application process. Many students shared a distrust of “free money programs” and expressed concern about providing personal financial information. Edquity’s application, which on average takes six minutes to complete, addresses this concern by focusing on basic needs rather than requiring private details of a family’s situation.
Research has shown that most students are unaware of the existence of emergency aid programs, and dual enrollment students may not realize that any assistance is available to them at all. While Compton College staff used one-on-one conversations and email communications to alert dual enrollment students to the pilot program, they found that asking students’ high schools to share information as well significantly increased interest.
For Compton College, the pilot program was a clear success, with 231 students approved for funding (some more than once). In total, over $59,000 in cash assistance was distributed to students who reported needs ranging from money for textbooks to help with transportation. It also served as an important reminder that dual enrollment students face the same challenges as other college students. To ensure equity of access, colleges should pay specific attention to the needs of this often underserved group.
To read the full report, visit http://believeinstudents.org/index.php/compton-college-report/