Increasing Student Access and Success in Dual Enrollment Programs

ECS’ newly released report, Increasing Student Access and Success in Dual Enrollment Programs: 13 Model State-Level Policy Components, provides policymakers with the information they need to expand and ensure quality dual enrollment programs. To help policymakers make the case for building upon existing dual enrollment efforts, the brief provides a sampling of state student participation data, indicating not only significant geographic disparities in dual enrollment coursetaking within some states, but lower program enrollment rates among low-income and minority students. The report also offers a quick overview of the large and growing body of research quantifying the benefits participating students reap in study after study. These benefits include higher levels of college readiness, lower remediation rates among college-going students, and reduced time to degree completion among others. These effects remain even while controlling for student characteristics.

The paper also sets forth 13 policy components that, adopted as a whole, are likely to substantially enhance program quality and participation, especially among students traditionally underrepresented in higher education. These components, derived from an analysis of research, state policy and participation data, and good ol’ common sense, are framed under the four areas of Access, Finance, Ensuring Course Quality, and Transferability. Just a sampling of the policy components under each of these “buckets,” links to relevant sections of the ECS dual enrollment database, and clarification on why these policy components matter include:

  • Annually provide all students and parents with program information (under “Access”): You can’t go if you don’t know. States need to make sure that all students and their families get the message on the availability and potential benefits of dual enrollment participation.
  • Eliminate financial barriers to participation (Under “Finance”): Requiring students/parents to cover tuition costs definitely closes program participation to students from low-income families and may hinder enrollment even among middle-income youth. While four states cover tuition costs for students and four states direct districts to cover tuition costs, nine states place responsibility for tuition entirely with students/parents, while 18 states and the District of Columbia leave the determination of who pays up to local agreements between high schools or districts and postsecondary institutions.
  • Ensure courses meet the same level of rigor as the course taught to traditional students at the partner postsecondary institution (Under “Course Quality”): Until states ensure mechanisms are in place to guarantee dual enrollment course content reflects real college-level expectations, institutions in many states may resist recognizing dual credit coursework as transfer credit—thereby denying the potential of dual enrollment to help students save money and reduce time to degree attainment.
  • Ensure transferability of credit (Under “Transferability”): Having students take—and students, parents and taxpayers underwrite the cost of taking—the same course twice because it didn’t transfer is a waste of everyone’s time and money, and student and faculty effort. Today, 22 states require all public two- and four-year institutions to recognize dual enrollment courses for credit towards general core or program major requirements, an improvement from 15 states identified as having such policies in 2008.

Colorado data suggest that these 13 policy components are not a policy wonk pipe dream, but can truly enhance program participation and outcomes. In 2009, Colorado enacted legislation to create a statewide dual enrollment program closely aligned with these 13 components. In one year alone, from 2010-11 to 2011-12 (the most recent year for which data are available), dual enrollment program participation increased by 15.5 percent. Colorado dual enrollment programs are also increasing in racial diversity—in 2011-12, Hispanic students made up nearly 20% of dually enrolled students. Black students, while still underrepresented in dual enrollment in Colorado, saw a 30% increase in program participation between 2010-11 to 2011-12. And as other studies and state data have borne out, Colorado dual enrollment students are significantly more likely than their peers who did not dually enroll to enter college immediately after high school graduation, and have higher college GPAs and first-year retention rates.[i]

Jennifer Dounay Zinth is a Senior Policy Analyst, co-directs the ECS Information Clearinghouse at Education Commission of the States.


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