Dual Enrollment: A Pathway to College and Career Readiness
Dual Enrollment: A Pathway to College and Career Readiness
By Donna James, Laura Lefkowits, and Robin Hoffman
In the 21st century, the need to prepare students for success in college and career cannot be understated. Countless researchers and pundits have pointed out the challenges faced by those without a high level of knowledge and skills when it comes to competing in the global marketplace. A high school diploma no longer guarantees a middle class job; without a postsecondary degree or certificate, it will be difficult for most students to survive and thrive in our changing world. The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) believes educators across the P-20 spectrum must increase the academic rigor of high school curriculum, provide structures for student acceleration and support, and create successful pathways for all students from pre-kindergarten through postsecondary education.
Dual enrollment and other early college programs offer an avenue toward meeting these challenges. There is evidence of success among dual enrollment programs in improving dropout rates and helping to move more students onto a college-bound track. However, dual enrollment programs are not a silver bullet. They must be supported by enlightened state policy and their quality must be assured. Regional accrediting agencies, such as the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS), have a big role to play in ensuring the quality of course offerings in dual enrollment programs. This brief summarizes dual enrollment programs in three states – North Carolina, Georgia, and Florida – and makes the case for continuing, strengthening, and expanding these programs to help meet the goal of ensuring that all students are college- and career-ready.
What is Dual Enrollment?
Dual enrollment programs are collaborative efforts between high schools and colleges in which high school students are permitted to enroll in and earn credit for successfully completing college courses, often on a college campus (Karp et al., 2007).
At the same time, participating students earn credit toward the requirements of their high school diploma. Throughout the country today, students enrolled in high schools may be dual-enrolled in programs that incorporate both college-level academic and relevant career preparation courses at a community college or university. Students who complete dual enrollment programs may earn Associate degrees, diplomas, or certificates at the same time they are earning their high school diplomas.
Historically, dual enrollment programs targeted high achieving students who benefited as much from the challenging course work as from earning credit. Recently, some states have made changes in the purpose, structure, and visibility of dual enrollment programs to provide a pathway to postsecondary work that includes a wider range of students. These include programs that focus on aiding underserved students who might be considered inadequately prepared for postsecondary work academically and socially.
Data on student participation in dual enrollment is limited and in the early stages of being collected. According to two 2005 reports from the U.S. Department of Education, 71 percent of U.S. high schools and 51 percent of U.S. postsecondary institutions permitted high school students to take college courses in 2002-03 (Waits et al., 2005). In total, 813,000 secondary school students took a college-credit course during 2002-03 (Kleiner & Lewis, 2005). At the federal level, the Secretary of Education’s Commission on the Future of Higher Education has expressed support for the expansion of dual enrollment programs (Karp, et al., 2007).
Benefits of Dual Enrollment Programs
Since their inception, dual enrollment and early college programs have been touted as avenues of "seamless transition" for students moving from secondary to postsecondary education. With an increase in the emphasis on college and career planning for students entering high school, more students are being encouraged to select an advanced curriculum that aligns with their postsecondary education and career goals.
There are recognized economic and educational benefits of these programs. Dual enrollment is seen by parents as a money-saving strategy that avoids skyrocketing tuition costs, because courses are often paid for and taken through the local high school. According to the U.S. Department of Education, for the students who participate in these programs, college credit earned prior to high school graduation reduces their average time-to-degree and the likelihood of graduation. There is also evidence that dual enrollment increases academic performance and educational attainment and decreases the need for remediation at the postsecondary level (Collins, 2011).
An emerging body of research and practice suggests that providing college-level coursework in high school has promise to better prepare a wide range of students for college success. This coursework, if well designed, may:
- increase the pool of students historically underserved who are ready for college;
- increase the academic rigor of the high school curriculum;
- help low-achieving students meet high academic standards;
- reduce high school dropout rates and increase student aspirations;
- provide more academic opportunities in cash-strapped, small, or rural schools;
- provide realistic information to students regarding the skills and knowledge they will need to succeed at the college level;
- improve motivation through high expectations and the promise of free courses;
- decrease the cost of postsecondary education by decreasing the number of years needed to earn a college degree; and
- create a feedback loop between K-12 and postsecondary systems around issues of standards, assessments, curriculum, and transitions from high school to college (Hoffman et al., 2009).
Dual Enrollment in Practice
Florida, Georgia, and North Carolina are examples of states heavily invested in providing articulated and structured dual enrollment opportunities. The programs in Florida and Georgia follow the traditional trajectory of accelerated learning and providing access to higher education credit for high achieving high school students, while North Carolina has embraced the dual enrollment pathways approach of the early or middle college model.