Kevin: As college enrollment rates peak and students and parents weigh the cost benefit of a college degree, dual enrollment offers many students a cost-effective option to pursue higher education. What are the benefits of dual enrollment? And which students are best suited for it? Are there disadvantages? How can grade schools and colleges partner to offer our students more opportunities and options when it comes to higher education? This is What I Want To Know. And today I'm joined by Douglas Rodriguez to find out.
Kevin: Douglas Rodriguez is the principal of Colēgiate Preparatory Academy in Miami, Florida. Along with other roles, he is currently serving as president of Doral College, North Campus. Doug previously served as president and chief executive officer of Doral College, as well as the president of Doral Academy, one of the largest and best-performing charter schools in the entire United States. He began his career as a social studies teacher and taught at various schools before moving into school administration. Soon, Doug became a school principal and eventually was well-known as a school turnaround expert. Doug took over the leadership of some of the most challenging schools in the entire state of Florida and created a culture of learning for their students. In fact, in 2008, Doug was named Florida Principal of the Year. Today, Doug is here to talk to me about dual enrollment and his work in this arena. Doug, welcome to the show.
Douglas: Thank you so much, Kevin. It's great to see you again and get a chance to speak with you.
Kevin: Well, I have to make sure that our listeners know, under full disclosure, we've known each other a long time. As I tell people all the time, you are one of the best principals in America, Florida Principal of the Year back in 2008. And your career started when you were a social studies teacher. And one thing I've never asked you about, as you migrated from being a social studies teacher, day-to-day in the classroom, to administration, I hear more and more teachers talk about the challenges of that transition.
Douglas: Well, I appreciate that, Kevin. Going into administration was not something that I really ever envisioned I would do, to be perfectly honest with you. I had this great principal, Bob Snyder, who one day came over to me, and he saw a leadership ability in me. And he says, "You really should think about administration." And I said to him, "I appreciate it, Bob, but I think I'm really happy teaching. I love what I'm doing." And I felt like I was really serving kids well in that capacity, but he goes, "Start on your advanced degree in administration. Let's see where it leads you." And sure enough, I took his advice and had the opportunity to go into administration, go through the various leadership academies in Miami-Dade County Public Schools, and then eventually, I got hired.
Kevin: One thing that's interesting when you talk about that transition: many teachers feel like, in their classroom, they can control it.
Kevin: I mean, it's their classroom. They can control it. But when you're assistant principal, and especially as principal, there are so many things that you just cannot control day-to-day that you respond to.
Kevin: And you developed a reputation, made your mark, frankly, in turnaround schools, working with schools that had challenges, low academic output, poor engagement, and as principal, you would go into some of these schools and change the culture. I want to ask you about one particular aspect of your work. How important was trust in changing the dynamics of a poorly-run school? And how did you develop trust?
Douglas: I remember when I became the principal of Miami Central High School, which was a five-time “F” failing school here in Miami-Dade County and really was about to be closed by the state of Florida or made into a charter school. And the district asked me to go in and try to turn that school around. I quickly realized when I went into the school that many of the parents that I was dealing with had had a really negative experience with schools and education. And that asking a parent to come to the school wasn't always comfortable for them. And I said to myself, "Well, in this community of Miami Central, where are parents most comfortable?" And what I really found out very quickly was church. Believe it or not, it was church. On Sunday you could find most, if not all, of our parents were attending church somewhere in the community.
So I decided, "I've got to start going to church." So, really, for the remainder of the year, I started attending services, and got to know many of the pastors in the community. And it made me very comfortable with parents, very comfortable with the community leaders, and certainly with the pastors, many of whom I still communicate with today and have become lifelong friends. So, I think that's a really important aspect: that when you're doing a turnaround, in order to gain trust, you've got to meet parents and the community where they are. And when you run a school like Miami Central, that's been in that community for 70 years, you're really part of the community, and if you don't make yourself part of the community, the decisions that you make parents won't trust.
Kevin: You got involved in dual enrollment. Talk to me about sort of that transition and what led you to realize that there was a way to meet kids where they are, even if they have had a low-performing experience in high school, and get them interested in college in a way that helped them.
Douglas: I think the one thing that I learned very quickly at Miami Central was that all we were really doing for kids there at times was remediating kids. We weren't looking at, well, what else can these kids do? I tell people at times we might as well have changed the name from Central High School to Remediation High School. And I said to myself, "Well, how do we get kids to start to believe that they can do more than what we're asking them to do?" And I remember going to the president of one of the local universities here in Miami, and I said, "In order for me to really change the foundation and the culture of this school so that it can move forward and really lay a foundation that kids can begin to believe in themselves, I need to bring you in, and I need to explore dual enrollment and early college for kids while they're in high school. I need you to begin to look at some of the requirements that you're using in terms of GPAs. I need you to lower that temporarily so some of my kids can qualify."
And he did. He bought in, and he said, "You're right." So, we began what was a huge recruitment within the school to say, "Okay, we're going to start college." And kids and teachers looked at me and said, "You're crazy. We're trying to get kids to learn how to read." And I said, "Yeah, we'll do that. That's part of what we do. But we can do more. And I want to give them some hope and some belief that they can do more than just be remediated." And we started with a few classes, and it grew into literally thousands of credits that students earned while they were in high school. And it really began to change the way students saw themselves, the way the community saw the school.
Kevin: There's this disconnect between higher education and its policies and its approaches and the K through 12 systems across the country. And one of the things you were able to do when you spoke to the college president is sort of cut through that. But that's still a barrier, isn't it?
Douglas: It's a huge barrier. I think there's a huge bureaucracy at colleges and what I needed, I needed it quickly, and I knew I couldn't start in an office somewhere at a college. I needed to go right to the president. And he saw me, and we were able to cut through some of that. But in the end, what ends up happening is that colleges really want kids to come to their campus. So, it becomes a hindrance for our kids. We had kids that were all, I mean, we had a school that was nearly 100% free and reduced lunch, economically disadvantaged students. Those kids couldn't get to the college. There was no way for us to do that. Colleges inherently don't really understand how high schools work internally and those mechanisms that you need to be put in place so that you can have college be seamless within a student's school day.
Kevin: Well, and you started your own college, and you talked about the other way. What is the other way that breaks those barriers down but allows kids to get college credit while still in high school?
Douglas: So, what we did was we thought of an idea in working with Fernando Zulueta from Academica. We really started to talk about, "Well, how are we going to break down those barriers? How are we going to cut through the red tape?" And we said, "All right, let's start our own college. Let's have Doral High School apply to open its own college. Because then we can build the program seamlessly within the student's school day. And we can reach other charter schools." And Academica has a large network of charter schools that they work with.
Douglas: And so we did, and I did not realize how difficult that process was going to be, because nobody understood. Everybody would say to me, "High schools don't open colleges. It's impossible. You can't do it."
Kevin: How did you marry what was going on at the high school with what you needed to put in place at the college? — So much so that it was seamless for both students and faculty.
Douglas: So, there were some leaps of faith for students for us at the beginning. So, the one thing you find out really quickly is that once you get the license, that's just the beginning of what you've got to do. And you've got to get it accredited so that these credits can transfer and they mean something. And in most cases, you can't get accredited until you've had a class of students who go, graduate, take courses. So, many of the students at the very beginning that started taking courses were students that understood that these credits weren't going to transfer, but they used them as a resume builder for the college that they were applying to.
So to me, if you're going to do, for example, U.S. history at the college level, period one may be a traditional high school course, your second period could be a U.S. history to 1870, and you can be getting college credit and still meeting your high school graduation requirement by doing it through dual enrollment. So that's what we really began to do. We brought the college to the students as opposed to students having to go through the college.
And what we also did, we did it in an environment where kids were familiar and, remember, most of the schools we work with are schools that have high rates of free and reduced lunch, high rates of economically disadvantaged students. And we were doing it in an environment that they were comfortable with, which is in their own school, with counselors, with people that are there on campus to work with them. So I think that began to really get kids to believe, "Wow, I can do this while I'm here. And I don't have to go anywhere to do it within my school day."
Kevin: And what about the online aspect where kids would take some of these courses and utilize the virtual experience to help get some of the credits?
Douglas: So we did. We offered several different methods. We had certainly synchronous courses where kids, teachers, were live with students. And then I also began to realize that in order to really expand this to as many schools as we could, if we had schools where teachers were not credentialed, which means they had an advanced degree in an area that they could teach at the college level, and our credentialing, by the way, is the same as any college, the credentials, teachers, professors all over the country. There's no difference. They have to have an advanced degree.
I began to realize that some schools didn't have those instructors. So, in order to make that experience work for students, they would have to be in lab settings during a particular period. And we had schools that only maybe had two students that were taking U.S. history, three that were taking calculus at the college level. And so, we started to organize lab settings within schools where you could have 30 students taking potentially 10 different courses. And so, we began the delivery of an online system to students. Some were live, synchronous through remote live instruction, and others were more the traditional approach to online learning. So, that is one of the ways we began to expand the college quickly to lots of campuses over various charter schools.
Kevin: How did the students respond to this opportunity? You talked about your experience at Central, where kids, once they realized that college was not a foreign possibility, but a real possibility, you could see the confidence grow. Did you experience something similar as you expanded this dual enrollment option for kids, knowing that there was a college within their control?
Douglas: Things changed really quickly when kids began to understand that not only did they have the ability to do this, but they could do it in a way that was easy for them to be able to and in a setting that was comfortable to them. And the way I knew that right away is because we began, I'll never forget, our first semester began with eight enrollments. So we literally had eight enrollments in courses our first semester when we started the college. This past year, we reached 20,000 enrollments throughout the state of Florida.
Kevin: Oh my goodness.
Douglas: And so, we literally went from graduating, I think it was three students with AA degrees, and this past year graduated well over 500 students with AA degrees. And not only Associate’s degrees, but also you're talking about literally thousands upon thousands of students that maybe didn't earn the Associate’s degree, but took away 30 college credits or took 20 college credits or 15. And the great thing, Kevin, in the state of Florida, dual enrollment is 100% free to students. So students did not pay for a book. They did not pay for the course.
Kevin: No loans.
Douglas: Nothing, absolutely nothing.
Kevin: Are there students that are more likely to succeed taking these dual enrollment courses or not? Do you find that just the exposure helps every child?
Douglas: Well, I think the exposure helps everybody. So, what we've done is we've come up with — there is a requirement for students to have a certain GPA. We work with that GPA, and we can massage it with students depending on what their need is and where they are. But what we've done, Kevin, is we've also developed courses like SLS 1101, which is called college success. That is a course that any student can take who has a 2.5 GPA and is not tested into the college. And what I mean by testing in: They have to have a certain score on either the PERT or the ACCUPLACER, because we want to give them that college experience. So what we do is we'll look for kids that have a 2.5 GPA, and we'll allow them to take up to six credits, even prior to being full qualifiers at the college, which gives them the experience of taking college and being successful at it.
Yeah. I was going to ask you, along those lines, about if there were particular classes that lend themselves to being more conducive to the dual enrollment experience or whether or not there are certain subject matters that kids are easily adaptable to take.
Douglas: We offer everything literally from chemistry to physics and you name it. But what we do find is that students have certain strengths and interests. And when we work with students, we really look at what is their goal. So, we don't just enroll students. We actually create a plan for them. And that's what I think makes it really conducive to the student being successful.
There are kids that it's really important for them to earn the credential of the Associate’s degree, which is 60 credits before they graduate high school. That's important to them. And that's a track that we can put kids on to do that. Then we have other kids who are saying, "No, I want to be an engineer, or I want to go to medical school. So I want to focus on math and science and do as many of those credits as I can," when they come to our college. It is not just the purpose of taking courses, but it's the purpose of, "Yes, let's take courses, but what do you want to do with this?" And again, every kid is different,and we don't frown upon kids that don't get their degree. We love kids to take courses and make it meaningful for them.
Kevin: College officials will say that college experience on campus matters. How would you respond to that? And what are some of the social challenges, if any, for kids who are in high school and taking these college classes: What are some of the challenges that they may face?
Douglas: When kids go to college to the college campus, I think that certainly is a valuable experience for kids. Many of the kids that we're working with, though, are young. I mean, some of them are starting college as early as 14 years old.
Douglas: And putting them in an environment where they may be in a classroom with a 26-year-old or a 30-year-old, while I'm sure that has certain value to students, many are not socially ready for that type of experience. And so, what we try to do is to get kids in the most comfortable environment to make them successful. And you're right; online is changing. And one of the things that I think really was important to me is that as we were doing this and understanding that colleges wanted kids on campuses and doing those things because it had a certain value to them as a recruitment tool as well, which I understood that, is that if you look at what's happening in colleges across the United States, all you have to do is look at what college debt is today, right? It's amazing. It's in the news all the time.
Kevin: Yeah, yeah.
Douglas: And what we're finding is that students are starting college, they're going to college, they're taking loans, and they aren't graduating. Colleges measure graduation rates in six-year increments. So basically, they're giving you six years to earn a four-year degree, which means you're basically an on-time graduate. And what we're learning really quickly is that the graduation rates across this country are absolutely horrible.
Douglas: And depending on the state you look at, some of them are down in the 40% and 30%. It's just absolutely crazy. But what we learned quickly and what I've tried to get colleges to understand is that if we put kids in a really comfortable environment and they can be really successful at doing that, then they're going to have much stronger students when they leave. And by the way, they're finding that too.
Kevin: So, Doug, this is what I really want to know. Not every high school can start a college.
Kevin: You've been through that. But if you're a high school principal and you want to start a dual enrollment program with your local college, what advice would you give them?
Douglas: So, I think the first thing you need to do is certainly reach out. For most colleges today, dual enrollment has become something that's used pretty widely throughout the country. I think they want you to become involved with their college. I think you need to begin to reach out to their student services department. You need to look at creating memorandums of understanding, MOUs, with these colleges on what courses you're going to take. You need to talk to them about cost. If you can provide a teacher who can be credentialed by the college to teach the course, are they willing to do something in terms of what the cost is going to be to the school? Because in the end, somebody has to pick up the bill. And in many cases, the schools are picking up the bill for the kids, which they're happy to do.
So, I think that they need to reach out to them, look at kind of the different parameters. Can we bring professors onto our campus? And I think colleges are really now willing to discuss those kinds of things. And I think once you establish that relationship with the college and you begin to do that, I think that schools can become really successful doing this. And I agree, what we did was a very, very difficult process to happen. And schools, if they can establish those relationships with their local colleges, can do it without going through some of the heartaches that certainly we had to go through to get the college licensed.
Kevin: Doug Rodriguez, you continue to do amazing work for kids. Thank you so much for joining us on What I Want To Know.
Douglas: Thank you so much, Kevin. It was a pleasure.
Kevin: Thanks for listening to What I Want To Know. Be sure to follow and subscribe to the show on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or your favorite podcast app, so you can explore other episodes and dive into our discussions on the future of education. And write a review of the show. I also encourage you to join the conversation and let me know what you want to know, using #WIWTK on social media. That's #WIWTK. For more information on Stride and online education, visit stridelearning.com. I'm your host, Kevin P. Chavous. Thank you for joining What I Want To Know.
Douglas Rodriguez is the principal of Colēgiate Preparatory Academy in Miami, Florida. Along with other roles, he is currently serving as president of Doral College North Campus. He has previously served as president of Doral College, one of the largest and best-performing charter schools in the U.S.
Before his first administrative appointment, Douglas began his career as a social studies teacher and taught at various schools. Since then, he has worked in several administrative positions, helping to improve schools and educational systems, and providing students the opportunity to pursue higher education.
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What I Want to Know
In this podcast, you will hear from leaders in education as we talk through learning solutions for homeschool, online school, education pathways, and topics tailored specifically to online students and parents.