Killing Two Birds With One Stone

How UPA students experience and balance college classes in high school

As a small charter school, UPA’s limited course catalog is unable to fully cater to the wide variety of interests and goals of the 720 enrolled students. UPA has offered an array of around 50 courses and extracurriculars over the course of several years now, but some students want to broaden their horizons. This is where dual enrollment—simultaneous enrollment in high school and college courses—comes in.

“I chose to do dual enrollment because I was particularly interested in these subjects, and that is something our school doesn’t offer,” junior Vittal Venna said, who is taking Solar System Astronomy. “I thought it would be a good opportunity to go to De Anza [College] and actually take these classes.”

The COVID-19 pandemic forced schools across the country to go into distance learning, and community colleges were no exception. Since UPA students were already taking their high school classes online and most extracurricular activities were on pause, students experienced greater flexibility in not having to worry about transit and time constraints usually associated with dual enrollment classes. 

“One thing we’ve noticed, post-COVID, is that kids got very independent, and they enjoyed that independence,” Director of Curriculum and Instruction Matt Daugherty said. “So, I think part of the flexibility that community college courses offered them is their way of maintaining or holding on to that.”

At school, dual enrollment students actively participate in their in-person classes, but due to COVID-19, asynchronous classes keep students on their computers at home. (Illustration by Vidya Achar).

De Anza College is one of the local community colleges students turn to for dual enrollment classes, and the application process is similar among these schools. Venna explained that high school students must apply to the school as a dual enrollment student, fill out the appropriate papers, choose the courses that they would like to take and send the request to their counselor. If they receive approval, they can register for those classes.

Completing this process unlocks one of the main benefits of dual enrollment: the vast selection of courses offered, both in person and online. Venna explained that as an asynchronous student, the coursework is self-paced since the professor provides the material and lecture videos at the start of the week and assigns due dates for later that week. Overall, he described most of the learning as independent and found it both manageable and enjoyable. 

Senior Angela Hung took multivariable calculus in person at Evergreen Valley College and Emerging Infectious Diseases as an online course at Mission College. She said her asynchronous class on infectious diseases involved frequent emails with her professor if she has any questions but very minimal stress as she worked on her own schedule. In contrast, she found her in-person multivariable calculus class to be similar to her high school classes but at a college level.

“You’re expected to do things by yourself,” Hung said. “If you have questions, you need to reach out; the teacher is not going to come up to you. You have to take charge of your own learning, and in that way, they expect you to act like an adult in that setting.”

According to Daugherty, some of the common courses that UPA students have been taking as dual enrollment courses include a variety of math classes, such as trigonometry and precalculus, in order to accelerate through the math sequence. Similarly, chemistry is a noticeably frequent summer course selection to advance through the science classes, and there is also a wide range of computer programming courses not offered at UPA that interest students. 

Despite the large number of UPA students that have taken or currently take dual enrollment classes, in accordance with California bill AB-1451, only five percent of the students at a high school of any grade level are allowed to be enrolled in these classes, with a general limit to advanced education courses. In the past, UPA counselors have worked around this cap, signing off on more dual enrollment forms than the restriction allows, but as student data systems become digitized, counselors have been more mindful of staying within the bounds.

“I think encouraging young people to go to a college campus and take college-level courses is in line with our mission,” Daugherty said. “If we don’t offer something, and a kid can find it at a community college, I think that’s pretty cool because not only are they doing something that’s very mission aligned, but it’s also helping them.”