Policy Forum: Research Necessary to Explain Dual Enrollment’s Full Impact Among Low-Income Students

WASHNIGTON, D.C. — Dual enrollment programs lead to higher GPAs for low-income, low-achieving male students and higher rates of full-time college enrollment overall, but more research is needed to develop a stronger link between the programs and post-secondary success.

Those were among the major points made Friday during an American Youth Policy Forum titled “Dual Enrollment: A Strategy for Improving College Readiness and Success for All Students.”

The policy group’s focus on dual enrollment comes just as the U.S. Department of Education granted No Child Left Behind waivers to several states that incorporated dual enrollment plans into the state education plans they developed in exchange for the flexibility.

“We think it’s important that students are taking rigorous and challenging coursework at the high school level to prepare them for college,” panelist Chad Aldeman, Policy Advisor in the Office of Planning, Evaluation and Policy Development at the U.S. Department of Education, said in reference to the three NCLB waiver-granted states—Florida, New Mexico and Indiana—that incorporated dual enrollment strategies into their education plans.

Dual enrollment programs are programs in which high school students are simultaneously or “dually” enrolled in both high school and credit-bearing college courses that may be taught in the high school or at a college campus.

The programs have grown in prominence over the last decade and serve as many as 800,000 students per year, although the latest national data on dual enrollment’s reach are from the 2002-2003 school year, according to a February “research overview” produced by the Community College Resource Center and distributed to the 100 or so people who attended Friday’s policy discussion.

Panelist Katherine Hughes, Assistant Director of Work and Education Reform Research at CCRC and the Institute on Education and the Economy, or IEE, said research on the effectiveness of dual enrollment programs is still emerging.

While some research has shown some benefits of dual enrollment, such as better academic performance in college, not enough is known to establish a clear link.

“We’ve found positive outcomes, but it’s not causal,” Hughes said of the link between dual enrollment and the positive outcomes for dual enrollment students, which have included higher rates of full-time college enrollment and higher GPAs one year after high school graduation.

Cecilia Speroni, a researcher at Mathematica Policy Research and a research affiliate at the National Center for Postsecondary Research, presented findings from studies of dual enrollment in Florida.

Among other things, the research found that dual enrollment students who took their college courses at community colleges went to college and obtained degrees at higher rates than students who took their dual enrollment college courses at high school. Further, dual enrollment students who took college algebra had higher rates of college enrollment and degree attainment than other students, but regular dual enrollment students did not.

The implication, Speroni said, is that dual enrollment has strong positive effects on college enrollment and completion, but whether students take their dual enrollment classes at the college campus or in high school seems to make a critical difference, and so does the type of courses they take.

“We need more data like Florida,” Speroni said.

Julie Alexander, Interim Vice Chancellor for Academic and Student Affairs for the Division of Florida Colleges, said both K-12 and post-secondary institutions have found dual enrollment attractive because they both get funded by the state for educating the same students. Specifically, school districts in Florida get $3,542 per full-time student and colleges in Florida get $2,929 per full-time student.

However, Alexander noted that Florida colleges waived approximately $49.7 million in tuition and fees for dual enrollment students in 2010-2011 that they could have collected were they regular students and that, at some point, capacity could become an issue.

She said state legislation is pending that would give colleges more ability to limit dual enrollment based on capacity.

“Colleges need the ability to say, ‘We just can’t do any more or we’re having to push other students away,’” Alexander said.

Alexander said colleges are hopeful that the Florida legislature will be open to discussing funding mechanisms that “get at the true cost of the program.”

The AYPF event prompted a series of questions on some of the long-term practicalities of dual enrollment.

For instance, Dr. Clifford Adelman, Senior Associate at the Institution for Higher Education Policy, raised questions about transferability of dual enrollment credits.

“We’re in an age of multi-institutional enrollment,” Adelman said of the transience of many of today’s college students.

Dual enrollment students may not always be able to get their college credits accepted in all colleges, he said.

“It’s a more complicated area when it comes to how dual enrollment credits are used,” Adelman said. “I’m surprised CCRC hasn’t dealt with any of it, but it’s a really critical issue in dual enrollment in the credit system.”

Hughes, of CCRC, said that, while dual enrollment credits look the same on paper as any other college credits, students “need to be savvy enough” to take their transcripts to whatever college they transfer to so that the credits count.

“If they’re going to a different college than the one where they took dual enrollment, it doesn’t look like they’re carrying their transcripts,” Hughes said. “That’s worrisome.”