Wecker, Erin Costello, and Patty Wilde. “Neither Here nor There: A Study of Dual Enrollment Students’ Hybrid Identities in First-Year Composition.” Teaching English in the Two-Year College 48.1 (2020): 16-43. Print.
Erin Costello Wecker and Patty Wilde report on a qualitative study of the challenges faced by students participating in a “come-to-campus” dual-enrollment program in Washington State (17). For Wecker and Wilde, the “hybridity” demanded by such programs presents specific and “undertheorized” issues for these students (17).
The authors developed a twenty-one item survey consisting of multiple choice and short-answer questions (20). Students targeted were among the 27,000 enrolled in “Running Start” in 2017-2018, a come-to-campus program operating in Washington State community and technical colleges as well as in a number of four-year institutions. A sizable majority of the 784 students who responded enrolled at two-year colleges. Running Start is tuition-free but requires students to pay textbook costs and fees. Juniors and seniors who qualify may take all their high-school credits at the colleges or may enroll part-time (17).
The authors review previous scholarship on dual-enrollment programs, noting the “mixed” conclusions about its effectiveness for both the high-school students and the regularly enrolled students, some of whom may feel that the younger students hold the class back (19). The authors describe first-year composition, on which their study focused, as a course that attracts “an astonishing number” of dual enrollments (17). They report that programs in which most of the courses are taught in the high schools have received the most attention but argue that come-to-campus programs like Running Start deserve study (18), in particular as such programs heighten students’ sense of the ‘“and/not’ identity” that emerged as an important factor in students’ survey responses (17).
Extant critiques of programs like Running Start reviewed by the authors note questions about “[c]ognitive readiness” (18), with indications that the most successful students taking classes on campus are “exceptional: academically inclined and highly motivated” (19). Worries about “[a]ge-appropriate content,” for the authors, raise questions about whether younger students really are capable of being introduced to the true college environment that come-to-campus programs promote (19). Younger students’ social skills may also be inappropriate for the campus setting, with complaints about “horseplay,” loud voices, and lack of respect for adults (20)
The authors argue that the student voices in their survey add to these concerns the “gravity of identity,” which, in the case of dual enrollment, is exacerbated by hybrid status (21). Although in Washington State, professors do not know which of their students are participating in Running Start, Wecker and Wilde report that the students themselves are very aware of their vexed identity. In the authors’ view, identity issues raised in the hybrid context can affect students’ academic progress, including their negotiation of a writing classroom (21-22).
Financial challenges such as expenses for books, fees, and transportation, the authors write, emphasize to the students surveyed how they are both like other college students, yet unlike them. High-school students may not have cars or funds for parking meters. Moreover, some may lose eligibility for social services like reduced-cost lunches and now must pay for on-campus meals (23). The authors note that “low-income students comprised fewer than five percent” of the 2016-17 cohort (23).
For Wecker and Wilde, concern about access to “support services” also defines Running Start enrollees as lacking full identity in the college context (23). They write that in secondary contexts, support is liberally provided by the state; for example, disability assessments and accommodations are institutionalized (24). College students must take on a more “proactive” role in obtaining help they need. Students reported trouble finding adequate advising (24) and wished for more comprehensive orientations as they entered the program (25). One wrote that “there are so many resources available that I never even knew were available” (qtd. in Wecker and Wilde 25).
A particular concern for the writing classroom are the impediments to connection and community that the authors discover. Although their status is not revealed to professors and classmates, the students evinced worry about their age being detected and becoming a grounds for unequal treatment, even “ire” (26). Students reported losing the connections they had had with their high school friends and not replacing those connections in the college classroom, feeling, for example, they could not ask other students quick questions as easily when they needed help, nor could they easily find study partners (27). Students commented on their inability to form relationships when they could not share in conversations about children, jobs, or mortgages (28). The authors argue that this lack of connection troubles community-building efforts in writing classrooms.
The survey comments document concerns about the ways in which workloads, pace, and type of instruction also call attention to the Running Start students’ sense of displacement. Students who are accustomed to being able to work toward assignments over an academic year report struggling to fit the same amount of work into a ten- or fifteen-week college term (29), and note the loss of explicit instruction, such as specific formats for essays and step-by-step guidance (30-31). The authors posit that skipping two years of high school instruction, as some students do, leaves a “gap” in their efforts to acquire the skills the college environment demands (30). They suggest that composition instructors can help these students negotiate their hybridity by “better acquaint[ing] themselves with the high school English curriculum” (31).
Rather than a “checklist” of specific ideas for action, the authors present “dynamic reflections that can evolve in concert with all of our students” (31; emphasis original). They argue that more attention to the identities dual enrollment students bring to classrooms does not require “bespoke curricula or dilution of academic rigor” in order to improve these students’ experiences; rather, they contend, better understanding of these students aligns with the goal of inclusivity and of recognizing the identities all students bring to classrooms (32). Similarly, regular inclusion of information about support services, in the authors’ view, would be useful to all students. Continued or expanded commitment to community-building in the composition classroom, they write, also enhances the environment for all concerned (32-33).
The authors urge more active partnerships between secondary and postsecondary institutions, proposing professional development aimed at improving understanding of the identities that dual enrollment fosters in order to change an adaptation they believe these students may perceive as a loss into a “net gain” for all (33).