Community College Research Finds Dual Enrollment Benefits All

A new three year study from the Community College Research Center at Teachers College, Columbia University has found that dual enrollment (high school students taking college courses for credit) has benefits for all students — especially disadvantaged students — and shouldn’t be the sole province of high achievers.

Dual enrollment has become an increasingly popular strategy for improving college readiness for students—800,000 American high school students took a college course in 2002-03 (the last numbers available), and since then the numbers have grown. Until recently, however, dual enrollment had been reserved for higher-achieving students; in some states, students must have a minimum GPA to qualify.

The study analyzed outcomes for around 3,000 dual enrollment students participating in eight targeted dual enrollment programs located throughout California. These programs specifically targeted students from groups which were historically underrepresented in higher education. 60% of participants were non-white and 40% came from non-English speaking homes. Over one third of participants came from families without prior college experience.

The dual enrollment programs were funded primarily with a grant from The James Irvine Foundation and gave students in high school career-technical programs the opportunity to also take college classes. Participating students were more likely to graduate from high school than non-participants and more likely to enroll in four year colleges. Participants would also accumulate more college credits than non-participants with this effect growing over time rather than tapering.

The findings are consistent with those from earlier CCRC studies indicating that participation in career-technical dual enrollment is associated with improved performance on a range of college outcomes, including persistence, credit accumulation and GPA. This study, however, is one of the first to demonstrate that dual enrollment is a promising intervention for students who might not otherwise enroll in college, and are at high risk of dropping out if they do.

The CCRC claims that this study shows dual enrollment should be opened to a much wider range of students and many more students encouraged to follow a college track.

However, despite the benefits these programs provide for students, two were discontinued in 2011 due to lack of funding and many others are at risk, struggling to sustain themselves financially because of cuts to community college funding.

The Community College Research Center was founded in 1996 and is the nation’s leading independent authority on two year colleges. CCRC conducts research on issues affecting community colleges in order to expand access to higher education for all students.