Concurrent Enrollment: A Model of Development as Freedom

By Brian Boecherer

About five years ago, when taking courses for my doctorate in political science, I took a graduate class on economic rights. In this course I read a famous book entitled, Development as Freedom, by Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen. Dr. Sen makes the point that economic and political freedoms are linked and that the more we support the economic development of a country, the more the political freedoms in the country will grow. Poverty makes people vulnerable to being used by others (government, regional hegemons, etc.) as it keeps education low, it reduces the opportunities for personal independence – especially for women – and it restricts individual and group advocacy for other human rights. I find myself recalling this book from time to time, especially when I teach my students on topics of identity and rights enjoyment.


As I write this article for our newsletter, the week of Thanksgiving, I am recalling the arguments of the book again in response to an editorial in the Chronicle of Higher Education

(11/5/2017) that argues concurrent enrollment (programs like UConn ECE) are contributing to inequalities for students. In his article, Dr. Erik Gilbert, from Arkansas State University, suggests that his introductory history class has lower enrollment than in past years because students are taking course” while in high school. The result, he concludes, is that he has fewer students and, he adds, there are “fewer middle-class, suburban, white students [in his class].” He argues that because of concurrent enrollment, he has fewer students, more of which are minority and adult students. On this basis, he argues that universities that provide such programs are contributing to social inequalities at the university and they should be ended.


Dr. Gilbert is imbedding many assumptions about the nature of inequality into his editorial, but the point I believe he is trying to make is that a heterogeneous group of students makes for more diverse classroom discussions. This is certainly true; however, his argument, which is anecdotal, only holds together if we limit the arena to select general education courses at a university. His observations that concurrent enrollment is contributing to inequality does not consider the arena of the high school nor does it consider the issue of being admitted to a university. It does not consider that when a university invests in a quality connection with high school faculty, staff, and students, the entire educational enterprise benefits. The more we develop the partnerships, the more diverse populations that can benefit from this option.


It is important to start the conversation with framing the original intention of our program, that is, to make the senior year in high school more interesting, engaging, and beneficial for both students and instructors. UConn is the oldest concurrent enrollment program in the country, so the national conversation starts here in Connecticut. In 1954 Provost Waugh suggested that if we can work with the best and most credentialed high school instructors in the State, we can create an educational system that transforms all levels of high school education so that lower level classes prepare students for UConn courses – whether they be taught at the high school or at UConn itself. Provost Waugh also wanted to combat the problem of seniorities, something he attributed to boredom in the classroom. When you look at education as being a lifetime pursuit and on a continuum, the ability to offer college courses while in high school often rescues students and instructors by offering differentiated learning. Using the arguments of Dr. Sen, we are increasing the development in the high school, which results in increased student access, an awakening of one’s own academic interests, and the ability to invest in different University classes before going to college. As we seek to work with all high schools at an affordable rate and waive student fees for those in need, we are investing in the development of Connecticut.


There are many studies that suggest that when a student changes majors in college that their time to degree completion increases, which increases student debt, and delays entry into the job market or a more advanced degree. When students earn credits through UConn ECE, they are earning a currency which increases their competitiveness

when applying to college, preparing them for college rigor in advance of college, and in most cases giving them credits that allow them to move forward with their own academic interests once in college. This currency buys the students options. Moreover, students make these explorations and advancements in an environment where time and money are not inextricably connected. One of our most notable successes of the program has been the diversification of course offerings, which has increased the number of our high school partners. This has been at the core of my development strategy since 2005. At that time we offered 20 different classes; now we offer 70. Diverse course offerings allow for a diversity of students. Taking just one class allows students to see themselves as college worthy, and broadens access to future engagement in higher education.

What we do, collectively, is offer students freedom through development. Concurrent enrollment is the best system to provide this freedom at an affordable rate. I am suspicious of arguments, like Dr. Gilbert’s, which suggest that concurrent enrollment is contributing to inequality and that the only answer is to end these partnerships between high schools and universities. The pursuit of equality should not result in a lowering of the ceiling so no school and no student grows higher than another. We need to offer a diversity of opportunities, because we live in a world of diversity.


I hope you enjoy this year’s ECE newsletter magazine, it is filled with articles that highlight our engagement as a community and reminds us of why we commit to this task. Our best remedy to inequality is education and access.Concurrent enrollment is a model of development as