Dual enrollment continues to grow

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Dual enrollment and similar programs that allow high school students to earn college credits continue to be a hot topic among community college and K-12 district leaders.

A convening of community college presidents and school superintendents on Wednesday dove into national data on the program as well as hands-on details of some programs. The joint meeting was held remotely by the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) and AASA, The Superintendents Association, which have periodically held such meetings over the past six years to discuss college and career readiness.

Research shows huge increases in dual enrollment across the country since 2001, continuing to grow even during the pandemic, noted Kent Phillippe, associate vice president of research and student success at AACC. He presented an analysis of various studies that looked at: rates of dually enrolled students who go on to earn a college credential; completion and transfer data on these students; which states passed legislation to support the programs; parents’ education related to students who are dually enrolled; as well as information on other programs that offer students college credits, such as P-Tech, early college high school and advanced placement (AP).

Among the information presented: Data suggest that fewer than half of former dually enrolled students subsequently begin a postsecondary education at a community college. Students in Hawaii, Washington and Wyoming were more likely to enroll in community college (more than 60%), while students in Louisiana, Maine and Pennsylvania were less likely to enroll in public two-year schools (fewer than 30%).

AASA Executive Director Dan Domenech noted that dual enrollment has helped address equity at many school districts, allowing students who may have not even considered going to college to actually graduate from high school with college credits.

“This is an action step,” he said of dual enrollment programs. “This is something that is proven.”

More robust data

Despite the available data on dual enrollment, Scott Stump of the U.S. Education Department’s (ED) career, technical and adult education office, said he would like to see more robust data to help in making decisions on the programs. Dual-enrollment students aren’t captured in federal data because they are not eligible for federal student aid, so the information is not collected, he said. He added he is especially interested in how many career and technical education students are in dual enrollment.

New resource: “The Dual Enrollment Playbook: A Guide to Equitable Acceleration for Students,” Community College Research Center, October 2020.

Stump also provided a list of ED programs and grant opportunities that aim to help adult learners, CTE students and more. Among them: industry-recognized apprenticeship programs, the Rethink Adult Ed Challenge and CubeSat.

Challenges remain

Meeting participants also discussed some of the challenges of dual enrollment, many of which also applied to students not in the programs. For example, access to computers and the internet continues to be a barrier for many students at community colleges and public high schools.

Richard Rhodes, chancellor of Austin Community College in Texas and a member of the AACC board of directors, noted that students in dual enrollment and early college high school compromise more than 20 percent of his total enrollment.

“That is going to be a growing population,” he said.

Although it’s easier now to work with district and high school leaders to create such programs, that wasn’t always the case. When he previously served as president of El Paso Community College (Texas), the K-12 superintendent wasn’t initially interested in developing dual enrollment. She felt the AP program already served students who wanted to earn some college credits, he said. But when they started to discuss the numbers – such as less than half of AP students took the accompanying AP tests – she started to change her opinion and eventually became an advocate for dual enrollment.

There remain critics of dual enrollment, but their arguments have largely been proven incorrect, said Rhodes, who, with Steve Flores, superintendent of the Round Rock Independent School District, highlighted their joint efforts. For example, two Texas studies concluded the dual-enrollment programs are academically rigorous after critics questioned if 14 and 15 years olds could do college-level work.

Other challenges that still linger for the programs include who pays for them. In Texas, the larger urban areas in Austin and Dallas can afford to cover the programs for students, but many rural areas that don’t have a large tax base cannot afford to waive tuition and fees, Rhodes said. In addition, there is the issue of the cost of books, which some programs have tried to alleviate by using open educational resources, he said.

Articles on most recent AACC/AASA meetings:

About the Author

Matthew Dembicki
is editor of Community College Daily and serves as publications director for the American Association of Community Colleges.