California moves the needle on dual enrollment

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A new report on dual enrollment in California shows how a change in state policy has helped to boost participation and equity in the programs.

Wheelhouse: The Center for Community College Leadership and Research, located at the University of California, Davis, examined how a bill enacted by state lawmakers in 2016 has provided a framework through which more opportunities for dual enrollment could be embedded in high school students’ regular courses. It looked at dual enrollment overall, but also at such programs that include high school students and community college students together, and programs that are just for high school students.

In California, high school students represent an increasing share of community college enrollment, the report says, adding they are present in nearly 14% of all courses in the California Community Colleges (CCC) system. Overall, dual-enrollment participation among high school students has increased from 11.3% in 2015-16, to 18.2% in 2018-19.

Related article: Iowa report links dual enrollment to college outcomes

Gaps continue to exist among racial/ethnic groups — with Asian and White students having the highest participation rates (26.3% and 21.5%, respectively) — but all the groups have seen increases in that period. For example, participation among Hispanic students increased from 9.2% to 15.6% between 2015-16 and 2018-19. For Black students, it jumped from 8.9% to 16.2%.

While equity gaps exist in dual-enrollment programs, the gaps among racial/ethnic groups are smaller in courses that enroll only high school students and have narrowed over time, the report says. In fact, Latinx students have the highest participation rate in high school-only courses at 18.6%. 

Most (87.6%) of students from the high school class of 2015-16 who took community college courses enrolled in courses that included a mix of high school students and regular community college students. But that is decreasing. In the 2019-20 cohort, less than 75% of dual-enrollment participants enrolled in this type of course, the report says. An increased proportion of students took a combination of types of dual enrollment or participated in high school-only college courses. 

Uptick in high school-only courses 

Although a small share of all community college courses exclusively enroll high school students, these courses have seen substantial growth. In 2010, there were 624 high school-only dual-enrollment courses at California community colleges; a decade later, the number more than quadrupled to 2,601 courses, the report says. 

The number of students in high school-only courses also is growing. Only 1.5% of the 2015-16 graduating cohort participating in high school-only dual enrollment, with the rate increasing to 4.5% in the 2018-19 cohort.

“Student participation in HS-Only community college courses is still only a fraction of total dual enrollment in California, but the expansion of recent years shown by our data reflects an important partnership across segments that is reaching students historically underserved by dual enrollment and underrepresented in college,” the center says in its report. 

A wide variety of course subjects

Wheelhouse also studied what types of subject courses dual enrollment students took. About one-third enrolled in a career and technical education (CTE) course and 11% took courses categorized as “basic skills” by the community college. Enrollment rates in CTE are slightly higher (nearly 40%) among students who only enroll in high school-only courses, and slightly lower in basic skills (8%). 

Courses in social sciences and humanities have the highest rates of overall participation, followed by fine and applied arts, math, interdisciplinary studies and education. The patterns of enrollment by field of study are similar among students who only participate in high school-only dual enrollment courses, the report says.

The center also examined college credits earned in dual enrollment. On average, participating students earn 7.6 units by the time they graduate high school, which is equal to about 2.5 courses or slightly more than half of a full semester of college, the report says. Most of these units (6.8, on average) are transferable to a four-year university. Students who take high school/community college mixed courses accumulate more units on average than students who exclusively take high school-only dual-enrollment courses.

“This suggests room for growth in partnerships between high schools and community colleges in their course offerings,” the report says. 

Although the figures overall are promising, challenges remain. For example, dual-enrollment participation is uneven across high schools. 

“Nearly all California public high schools (98%) have at least one student participating in dual enrollment, but participation rates vary greatly by school, from less than 1% to 95% of students,” the report says.  

About the Author

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