A DEEPer approach to dual enrollment


For dual enrollment to be transformational at scale, it needs a revamped strategic approach that aligns better with students’ interests and potential career pathways, and expands access to underserved students, according to two new publications on dual enrollment from the Community College Research Center (CCRC) at Columbia University.

Despite their growing popularity, dual-enrollment programs often miss the mark on serving underrepresented students and on aligning with career pathways. CCRC recommends a model it calls “dual enrollment equity pathways” (DEEP) that has roots in the guided pathway model, which allows students to explore and complete programs aligned with their career and education goals.

Growing, but…

Dual-enrollment programs, which are predominantly partnerships between high schools and community colleges, have rapidly expanded in the past decade. Nationally, 82% of public high schools offer dual-enrollment coursework, enrolling more than 1.5 million high school students annually, according to CCRC.

Community colleges have also come to rely heavily on dual enrollment as their overall enrollments have shrunk over the past decade, with dual enrollment accounting for nearly one in five community college students, CCRC observes.

Still, dual enrollment has some shortcomings. For instance, many of the programs were initially created to encourage high school completion and postsecondary enrollment mainly among underrepresented students who were unlikely to consider college. But to date, dual enrollment predominantly includes high-achieving, mainly White students who are probably already on the college track.

Another criticism is that dual-enrollment programs frequently don’t provide postsecondary pathways for students, but rather random courses for which students can sign up.

Amping up

CCRC’s reports lay out a model for dual enrollment to address those and other challenges, and provide examples of six colleges in Florida and Texas that have adopted components of the model with encouraging success.

CRCC points to dual-enrollment successes cultivated from guided pathway partnerships between community colleges and K-12 districts. Some of the early-adopter partnerships have extended their guided pathway supports to students taking dual-enrollment courses to help more underserved students enter a college-level program, it says.

The DEEP model focuses on four areas of practice:

  • Outreach to underserved students and families to encourage their participation in dual enrollment.
  • Align dual-enrollment course offerings to career-technical associate and bachelor’s degree programs in high-opportunity fields.
  • Advise students in the exploration of their interests and the development of post-high school education and career path plans.
  • Support students by delivering high-quality instruction to build their confidence as college learners.

The reports note programs that use similar approaches, such as early college high school and the Pathways in Technology Early College High Schools models, which are well regarded for aligning academics with career paths, but they run on a smaller scale. The intensive requirements of such programs — for both students and schools — may limit their scale, according to the researchers.

Still, DEEP requires intentional work from colleges and K-12 systems to work.

“Consequently, effective implementation of DEEP practices requires significant changes on the part of both colleges and high schools in how they reach out to students and families, align curricula and pedagogy, and teach and advise students,” CCRC says in the reports.

It ain’t easy, but it works

The researchers also observe the cost side of implementing the model. Nevertheless, they add, there are strong incentives for both colleges and their K-12 partners to increase dual-enrollment college course-taking and postsecondary attainment among the large population of high school career and technical education students.

For example, San Jacinto College, which is one of the Texas colleges using DEEP, disaggregated data on students’ participation in dual enrollment and access to different college programs and identified programs in which student subgroups are underrepresented. Finding a lack of representation of lower-income students and students of color in their nursing programs, San Jacinto College and C.E. King High School partnered to create the King Nurses in Training (KNIT) program, which is designed to recruit and support underrepresented Black, Hispanic and low-income students from their community to pursue a career path in nursing, the report notes.

About the Author

Matthew Dembicki
Matthew Dembicki edits Community College Daily and serves as associate vice president of communications for the American Association of Community Colleges.
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