In partnership with the Aspen Institute, the Community College Research Center (CCRC) has released a new report that highlights equity gaps within dual enrollment programs and suggests ways postsecondary and K-12 leaders can address those barriers.
The report, “The Dual Enrollment Playbook: A Guide to Equitable Acceleration for Students,” analyzed nine dual enrollment programs in Florida, Ohio and Washington.
According to the playbook, dual enrollment refers to college classes taken by high school students through a partnership with an institution.
“We’ve been studying enrollment and outcomes for many years,” said John Fink, senior research associate at CCRC. “There really has been mounting evidence of the benefits of participating in dual enrollment … be that increasing the likelihood of going to college and succeeding in college.”
Dual enrollment courses can be taken through multiple methods. More than 80% of students take classes at a high school led by a college instructor. On the other hand, 17% of students commute to college campuses and learn from a college instructor while 8% complete their work online, the report found.
Though eligibility requirements vary for dual enrollment programs, the most common requirements include meeting a minimum grade point average and college placement test score. Additionally, students must receive written approval from either a teacher, counselor, principal or parent.
However, these requirements have created barriers for underrepresented and low-income students due to the cost of tuition and transportation, as well as the lack of access to quality test preparation tutors.
On average, 12% of White students participate in dual enrollment, compared to 7% of Black students and 8% of Hispanic students. However, one in five school districts nationwide have closed the racial equity gap, the playbook reported.
“There are a lot of barriers,” said Fink. “This is why we see inequitable access. But there is also a lot of really encouraging and tactical work happening on the ground among folks that are committed to equity and committed to using dual enrollment as a way to expand opportunity to college.”
To close the equity gaps, the playbook laid out five key principles for community colleges and K-12 schools to follow. Those include “setting shared visions and goals to prioritize equity; expanding equitable access; offering advising and support opportunities; providing high-quality instruction to build students’ confidence; and developing relationships to maximize student potential.”
As part of the first recommendation, districts must commit to equity by investing in staff and resources and analyzing bias policies and structures that may put some students at a disadvantage. Creating a culture of high expectations can also allow schools to become more equity focused.
Dual enrollment should also correlate with other goals in the district including serving more rural communities and increasing the number of students attending college. To expand access opportunities, schools must improve their outreach and recruitment strategies by focusing on specific high schools, according to the playbook.
There should also be less of a reliance on placement tests. According to the playbook, college standardized testing scores are not always indicative of student success. However, 25 states still require testing to qualify for dual enrollment programs.
Overall, costs can deter many students from seeking dual enrollment programs. Therefore, schools and institutions should look at ways to reduce overall fees by offering waivers or scholarship programs, the report suggested.
In terms of academic advising, schools should train college counselors to be familiar with college requirements. They should also discuss future career and college goals with all students and encourage them to take accelerated courses that fit their needs. To create a sense of belonging, the playbook recommends that schools provide opportunities for students to integrate into college life.
The fourth recommendation focuses on the impact of high-quality instruction. To raise standards, faculty should be hired specifically to teach dual enrollment programs. Teaching should build students’ confidence as well as prepare them for expectations in the college classroom.
“Providing high quality instruction and advising to these students [would help underprivileged students] do just as well as privileged students,” said Dr. Davis Jenkins, senior research scholar at CCRC. “In the past, colleges and schools have taken a very passive approach to it, and therefore, it benefits students from privileged families who have the social capital. It’s okay for them, but for these students and families, this is a path out of poverty.”
Lastly, greater equity can occur through relationship building between schools, districts and colleges.
The use of aggregated data can also help determine student outcomes, which include analyzing students’ race, family income and the high school they are enrolled in, according to the playbook.
“We also see that high minority, high poverty high schools are less likely to even offer [dual enrollment] programs,” said Fink. “So, looking at the community and being strategic about using the dual enrollment program” is important as it has served more affluent, White students in the past.
“Using that as a tool for college access and access to opportunity through college programs [can] lead to opportunity in the area,” Fink added.
Sarah Wood can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.