CTE Dual Enrollment: A Strategy for College Completion and Workforce Investment

While the term “dual enrollment” may conjure up the image of high school overachievers taking academically-oriented college courses, state policies and data make it clear that this image doesn’t reflect the reality of hundreds of thousands of students enrolled in career and technical education (CTE) coursework for dual credit. Education Commission of the States’ (ECS) recently-released report, CTE Dual Enrollment: A Strategy for College Completion and Workforce Investment, arms policymakers with research and state policy examples to help expand access to high-quality CTE dual enrollment programs aligned with current workforce demands.

CTE dual enrollment represents more than a sliver of all dual enrollment course offerings. The report cites large and growing participation. Federal data shows 400,000 enrollments in CTE dual enrollment courses in 2002-03, rising to 601,500 enrollments in 2010-11. That year, the most recent for which national data is available, CTE dual enrollment was offered in nearly half of the 82 percent of U.S. high schools providing dual enrollment opportunities. These national figures mask large CTE dual enrollment participation in some states. For example, 31 percent of all eligible students in Washington (2012-13) participated in CTE coursework for dual credit.

The report also cites the benefits of program participation. CTE dual enrollment course completers are more likely than their peers to finish high school, enroll in a bachelor’s degree program, enroll in college full-time without the need for remedial coursework, and have higher college persistence rates. In fact, Florida data show that CTE dual enrollment course completers were slightly more likely than dual enrollment completers as a whole to enroll in a four-year institution.

As with the broader dual enrollment policy recommendations from the ECS report released in February 2014, this new paper identifies key (though not exhaustive) policy considerations to strengthen program quality and accessibility:

  • Responsibility for course fees should not fall to students or parents. Course fees for CTE courses, in which students may need to purchase their own culinary or welding supplies, far outweigh fees for traditional academic courses.
  • Course content and instructor credentials must mirror those of traditional postsecondary instructors. Unless the course mirrors the course as offered to traditional students on the postsecondary campus, students are not assured of exposure to a “real” college experience and receiving the knowledge and skills they need to succeed in subsequent postsecondary courses in the CTE sequence. This is critical, as 67 percent of high schools offering CTE dual enrollment courses report that only high school instructors lead these courses.
  • Courses should incorporate industry curriculum and standards, and lead to certification. Courses that do not align with current industry curriculum and standards, or that do not lead to industry licensure or certification, do not fulfill dual enrollment’s potential to prepare students for high-wage, high-demand careers.
  • States should ensure course transferability. Today’s postsecondary students are highly mobile. Without statewide policies to ensure the transfer of credits across public two- and four-year institutions, CTE dual enrollment programs do not maximize their potential to save families tuition dollars, prevent duplication of services among institutions, and reduce students’ time to degree.

Career and technical education, economic/workforce development efforts to improve alignment between K-12, higher education and the workforce, and dual enrollment were all top priorities for state policymakers in 2013. Governors’ 2014 state-of-the-state addresses indicate these issues continue to preoccupy executive branches across the country. Maximizing access to high-quality CTE dual enrollment programs is one strategy research suggests can help students get on the pathway to degree completion and be better prepared for today’s workforce demands.

Jennifer Dounay Zinth is a senior policy analyst and co-director of the ECS Information Clearinghouse at Education Commission of the States.

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