Deep dive into California’s dual-enrollment data


A new study about California’s dual-enrollment programs shows promise in closing equity gaps when providing early access to the programs as high school freshmen.

The analysis affirms previous studies regarding uneven participation in dual enrollment based on race, socioeconomics and location, but it did find that programs are more equitable among those groups in ninth-grade programs. It adds that “robust partnerships and intentional placement of students has strong potential to increase equitable access to higher education.”

The study is by Wheelhouse: The Center for Community College Leadership and Research at the University of California, Davis; the university’s California Education Lab; and Policy Analysis for California Education.

The study notes the huge jump in dual-enrollment participation in California over the last few years but observes the equity gaps. It also notes lower participation among English learners, youth in foster care, homeless students and other students from disadvantaged backgrounds. Many dual-enrollment programs across the country face similar challenges as enrollments in the programs have swelled and largely fueled community college enrollments in many states.

Racial gaps

About 10% of all ninth through 12th graders attending California’s public high schools enrolled in a community college course in 2021-22, according to the report. Not surprisingly, participation rates increased across grade levels, with a 5.3% participation rate among freshmen and 15.8% rate among seniors. However, researchers found that participation among ninth-graders was more equitable across racial/ethnic groups than in later grades.

Among ninth graders, 7% of Asian American students participated in dual enrollment in 2021-22, compared to 5% of Latinx and white students, and 3% of Black students, according to the analysis. It notes that as overall participation increases as students move to higher grades, so does the gap between Asian American students’ participation and their peers from other racial/ethnic groups. Among 12th graders, one-quarter of Asian American students took at least one community college course, compared to 18% of white students, 15% of Latinx students and 11% of Black students.

The study highlights that the disparity between Asian Americans and Black students, for example, is four percentage points in ninth grade and 14 percentage points in 12th grade.

“The reasons for such differences in participation include both institutional and individual factors, but the more equitable rates of participation in 9th grade are likely the result of formalized school-based programs,” such as early college and middle college high schools, articulation agreements and formal dual-enrollment programs, like the College and Career Access Pathway program, the report says.

A flip in grade 12

Researchers found similar growing disparities based on socioeconomic status as students progressed in grades. In the ninth grade, the participation rate among socioeconomically disadvantaged students and non-disadvantaged students is the same, 5.3%. But as overall participation grows in 10th and 11th grades, a gap emerges and expands, with a three percentage point gap among sophomores and five percentage points among juniors.

However, the pattern flips in 12th grade, when 13.7% of participants are socioeconomically disadvantaged and 12.1% are non-disadvantaged. Still, the researchers note the disparities in grades 10 and 11 shouldn’t be dismissed, and the parity in grade nine is promising and “may be driven by intentional efforts to provide equitable opportunities early in high school,” the report says.

Wide variation based on location

The study shows how participation in dual enrollment varies widely by county, from 2% of students in Inyo and San Benito counties taking community college courses, to more than 25% in San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties. Counties with high rates of high school freshmen in dual enrollment tend to have high rates of participation in all grade levels, which is likely the result of intentional efforts among K-12 and community college leaders, the study says.

But low freshmen enrollment doesn’t mean lower overall participation, it continues. It cites Madera and Napa counties as having basically no ninth-graders participating in dual enrollment, yet 10% of high school students overall in those counties took dual-enrollment classes.

CTE is popular

Researchers also looked at the types of courses participants enrolled in. The most common ones were in interdisciplinary studies, including career orientation and academic guidance courses that introduced many students to college courses. Not surprisingly, enrollment in these courses decreased as students moved up in grade levels. After interdisciplinary studies, social sciences (14.7%) and humanities (12%) had the largest number of dual enrollment across all grade levels, the report says. About 10% of all course enrollments were basic skill courses, many of which are related to services for special needs students, study skills and GED preparation, it adds.

The study notes that about one-quarter of community college courses taken by high schoolers are in career and technical education (CTE). It says that while overall dual-enrollment participation is lowest in grade 9 and highest in grade 12, the proportion in CTE is steady across all grade levels. Among the nearly 50,000 course enrollments of 9th graders in 2021-22, 24.3% were CTE courses, and 22.5% of the nearly 187,000 courses taken by 12th graders were CTE, the report says.

Among the CTE courses, the most popular classes were justice administration (7.3%), child development/early childhood (6%), office technology/office computers (4.2%), business and commerce (3.6%) and computer programming (3.3%), with similar rates across grade levels.

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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