Dual Enrollment Not Just for High Achievers Early College Improves Outcomes for Disadvantaged Students Too
By Katherine L. Hughes
Dual enrollment—in which high school students take college courses for credit—was once considered the exclusive province of college-bound high school students seeking more challenging classes. However, a new study from the Community College Research Center that I authored has found that dual enrollment can offer tangible benefits for students who are historically underrepresented in higher education.
The three-year study looked at eight career-focused dual enrollment programs across California and found that participating students demonstrated improved performance on a range of high school and college outcomes. Sixty percent of participants were students of color, forty percent came from non-English speaking homes, and at least one third had parents with no prior college experience.
The programs were created through partnerships between community colleges and local high schools. While they varied in structure and course offerings, all gave students in high school career-technical programs the opportunity to take college classes, and provided additional academic and non-academic supports. The programs were funded primarily with a grant from The James Irvine Foundation.
Our study analyzed outcomes of approximately 3,000 dual enrollment students through spring, 2011, and found that the dual enrollment students were more likely to graduate from high school, enroll in four-year colleges, and persist in college than similar students who did not participate. Participating students also accumulated more college credits than non-participants, and this effect grew over time.
These findings are consistent with those from earlier CCRC studies indicating that participation in career-technical dual enrollment is associated with improved performance on a range of college outcomes, including persistence, credit accumulation and GPA. However, this study is one of the first to demonstrate that dual enrollment is a promising intervention for students who might not otherwise enroll in college, and are at high risk of dropping out if they do.
It is important to note that many high schools in California—and across the nation—still have a "college prep" track, implying that not all students need to graduate ready for college. Our study suggests that many more students should be encouraged to follow a college track, some of which may be embedded in career themed pathways that begin in high school and culminate in career-based dual enrollment.
Dual enrollment has become an increasingly popular strategy for improving college readiness for students—800,000 American high school students took a college course in 2002-03 (the last numbers available), and since then the numbers have grown exponentially. Until recently, however, dual enrollment has been targeted at higher-achieving students; in some states, students must have a minimum GPA to qualify.
Despite their benefits for students, many of the California programs we studied are struggling to sustain themselves financially. Two of the programs were discontinued in 2011, and others are losing seats in college classes because of funding cuts.
To read the complete study, please visit: http://www.concurrentcourses.org/publications.html
Dr. Hughes is the former Assistant Director for Work and Education Reform Research at the Community College Research Center, Teachers College, Columbia University.