Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond. (Thomas Kojcsich/VCU Marketing)

Senior Republicans in the Virginia legislature are pushing a bill that aims to strengthen the process for students to take community college classes while they’re still in high school and then obtain credit from public universities for those dual-enrollment courses.

The bill from Del. R. Steven Landes (R-Augusta), HB3, calls for the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia to work with state and public university officials to set new quality standards for dual enrollment courses. It also envisions a system to ensure that courses that meet those standards will be accepted for credit at any of the state’s four-year public universities, including the College of William & Mary, the University of Virginia and Virginia Commonwealth University.

Landes said he wants the bill to be taken up in the House of Delegates after the General Assembly convenes in January. Which party will control the House remains to be determined through recounts in a handful of legislative races that yielded razor-thin margins in the November election. Democrats made major gains in the election and hope the recounts will enable them to share power with Republicans or even claim control of the House.

But in the meantime, some lawmakers are looking for issues that could generate bipartisan consensus. Education is one. “We’ve been trying to look for legislation to deal with practical solutions to problems we’re hearing around the state,” Landes said in a recent interview. Dual enrollment, when done right, can help make college more affordable, he said, and help students complete a degree as quickly as possible.

Landes, who has served as chairman of the House’s education committee, said he does not yet have Democratic co-patrons for the bill but hopes to draw bipartisan support. He said community college and secondary school leaders have been supportive. A key issue, he said, is ensuring rigor of dual-enrollment courses so that universities will be comfortable granting credit.

In fall 2016, 33,700 Virginia high school students participated in dual-enrollment programs. The programs are popular because they give students a wide array of possible courses, with the promise of earning potential college credit even before they graduate from high school. But a recent report from the state’s Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission found that the programs do not consistently save students time or money in the pursuit of bachelor’s degrees.

The report also found that faculty and staff at some four-year universities expressed concerns about the quality of dual-enrollment courses, which posed obstacles in accepting them for credit.

Glenn DuBois, chancellor of Virginia’s Community College System, said he wants to maximize the potential of dual-enrollment programs.

“The classes help students get more out of their high school experience, get a jump start on earning a postsecondary credential, and possibly reduce how much debt they incur along the way,” DuBois said in a statement Wednesday. “We want to see more of those benefits being realized by more Virginia students.” He said the bill from Landes  and a companion measure from state Sen. Glen H. Sturtevant Jr. (R-Richmond) “can help us in that effort, and we’re grateful to be working with them on it.”