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Georgia considers limiting dual enrollment programs
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Students fill the University of North Georgia student center Jan. 10, 2018, on the Gainesville campus. - photo by Scott Rogers

ATLANTA — Trying to hold down the growing cost of a program that pays for Georgia high school students to take college courses, lawmakers are considering limits on what students can enroll and what courses they can take.

Gov. Brian Kemp and a number of lawmakers have been raising concerns about Georgia's dual enrollment program, and administration allies on Wednesday unveiled an overhauled bill that would limit most students to 30 hours of college credit, what a student would have to take to reach college sophomore status. 

House Bill 444 would also say that most students taking academic courses would have to be high school juniors or seniors.

The idea, said Rep. Bert Reeves, a Marietta Republican, is to hold state payments to colleges for high school student courses at the current $105 million a year. In 2015, when the state liberalized rules, it was only spending $23 million a year. The state already stopped paying for student fees and books to hold costs down, but the program is projected to grow to 73,000 students spending $123 million in the budget year beginning July 1.

The number of course hours taken tripled from 2013 to 2017, with much growth concentrated at technical colleges in rural and exurban areas. Beyond tuition payments to public and private colleges, Georgia also pays public colleges and high schools additional aid based on enrollment.

"This reform is essentially going to save the program and sustain it and preserve it and make it a program that all Georgia students can use and access," Reeves told the Senate Higher Education Committee.

Reeves said students who take dual enrollment courses accumulate 17 hours of credit, on average, by graduation. The Georgia Student Finance Commission said that in the 2019 budget year, 6,397 out of 51,298 students in the program had taken more than 30 hours of credit. 

It's unclear if the bill would affect Georgia's 10 early college high schools, which aim for students to graduate high school with 60 hours of college credit, enough for an associate degree. Hall County has such a school, Howard E. Ivester Early College

Current high school students who have already earned 19 or more dual enrollment hours could take up to 12 more hours. High school freshmen would generally be banned. High school sophomores could enroll in career-technical classes, but in academic classes only if they score high on the SAT or ACT college tests.

The state would pay for regular academic courses in English and language arts, mathematics, science, social studies, and foreign languages. It would also pay for technical courses in one of the17 career pathways designated by the Georgia Department of Education. 

However, Reeves said the state would no longer pay for some fine arts courses, or for physical education at colleges. 

Ian Caraway, Kemp's higher education advis er, told the committee that the program isn't meant to let students take all high school graduation requirements at a college. Students and parents could pay on their own for courses above caps or outside state-approved fields.

Supporters said Georgia's program would remain more generous than other states. Education Commission of the States research shows most states require local school districts or parents to pay dual enrollment tuition. But most states don't cap credit hours. Commission research shows eight other states limit students to 30 or fewer hours of state-paid courses.

Senate Higher Education Committee Chairman Lindsey Tippins, a Marietta Republican, said his committee would vote on the bill Thursday, saying the program is "financially unsustainable" and that proposed changes are "reasonable."

School districts might feel differently. Atlanta Public Schools spokesman Ian Smith said the program has especially helped first-generation college students. He urged lawmakers to "consider the impacts this legislation would have on the most vulnerable students who use dual enrollment." 

Times file information included.