- Associated Press - Monday, December 17, 2018

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - The number of Louisiana public high school students taking college courses is growing, but black students continue to lag behind their white counterparts.

The latest data available shows 31,517 students took courses through Louisiana’s dual enrollment program in the 2017-18 school year, a 60 percent increase over 10 years ago, when the total was 19,716.

But The Advocate reports that only one in five of those enrolled in the program is black, even though black students make up nearly half the high school population.

Louisiana education leaders said uneven access and the lack of a statewide plan are hindering efforts to make the dual enrollment program a bigger part of the education landscape. They say the case for pursuing the college credits in high school is overwhelming, noting that those who take part enroll in college at higher rates, graduate sooner and save money.

“We truly need to be doing more to get kids of all backgrounds ready for the courses,” Superintendent of Education John White said.

About 23 percent of high school students are taking the college courses, according to state figures discussed during a joint meeting of the Regents and the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.

The fact that just 21 percent of those who are dually enrolled are black students has sparked attention and concerns.

“It illuminates the equity gaps that we see,” Higher Education Commissioner Kim Hunter Reed said.

By national standards, Louisiana was late to the game on dual enrollment.

“Other states have figured out how to do it very well,” said state Sen. Sharon Hewitt, a Slidell Republican who has been trying to raise the profile of the classes.

The lack of any overarching state plan means dual enrollment varies from district to district. Some students pay nothing for the classes. Others are charged up to $800 per course. Students in rural areas complain about lack of access to classes freely available in cities.

“It is all a locally brokered thing,” White said. “We really need to get to a point where there is a statewide, minimum level of access for qualified students.”

Robert Levy, outgoing Regents chairman, agreed.

“From day one we have said, ‘Where is the money?’” he said. “We should demand from our legislators that great progress be made on this.”

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