Gaming the College-Going System

By Watson Scott Swail, President & CEO, Educational Policy Institute/EPI International

With the push for 20 million more college graduates in America, there is increasing pressure on institutions to produce more degrees. As one might surmise, this is producing a “gaming” situation, where not all degrees will be alike.

First is the proposal from some to give anyone who has 120 credits, regardless of what credits they are, a bachelor’s degree. Second is the use of dual enrollment courses to give students college credit while in high school, with the goal of getting an associate’s degree very quickly.

While both arguments can be made, and while they would increase the number of “college graduates,” it certainly doesn’t do anything tangible to help the economy.

With regard to the former, a collection of credits for a bachelor’s program can be somewhat meaningless for the development of knowledge and expertise. If those credits have close enough academic links, then fine. But in many cases, perhaps most, they may be nothing more than a collection of “seat time” credits. That doesn’t make us more competitive. It just means we conferred more degrees.

Dual credit or enrollment is a more concerning issue. The issue of joint high school/college courses is puzzling. At the Advanced Placement level, I get that, because if students can take relatively high-end introductory college courses (e.g., Calculus A/B) in place of other high school courses, fine. But dual credit is not the same as AP. Dual credit is typically more common, lower-level courses, which begs this question: if students are able to take these college-level courses in high school, what does that say about the high school curriculum? Why have it at all?

If students can take dual credit courses and high schools can very conveniently show that they have matriculated more college graduates through, arguably, watered down dual credit offerings, what have we accomplished?

This conversation says two things: first, we must be very careful and mindful of public policy that introduces a gaming atmosphere into play. And second, we have to seriously think of what our high school curriculum is if we can just exchange college courses for it without too much thought. Perhaps high school, as we know it, is now completely antiquated? (it is definitely antiquated, but completely?)

Food for thought. Have a nice weekend.



About Educational Policy Institute

The Educational Policy Institute is a Washington, DC-based research think tank on education and the social sciences. EPI conducts evaluation and policy studies on various educational issues from Pre-K to workforce outcomes in the United States, Canada, and beyond. Visit us at
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