Dual enrollment (DE) is one of many terms used to describe a program that allows high school students to take a college course and earn both high school and college credit. However, access to college-level classes while in high school is not just about college credit. DE can also give students a jumpstart on exploring and preparing for careers.
ESSA defines the term ‘‘Earn college credit during high school’’ as a program offered by a partnership between at least one institution of higher education and at least one local educational agency through which a secondary school student who has not graduated from high school with a regular high school diploma is able to enroll in one or more postsecondary courses and earn postsecondary credit that—
- is transferable to the institutions of higher education in the partnership; and
- applies toward completion of a degree or recognized educational credential as described in the Higher Education Act of 1965 (20 U.S.C. 1001 et seq.).
DE is a proven, evidence-based strategy to increase high school achievement and completion and to boost postsecondary enrollment and credential attainment, the use of which has grown rapidly in recent years. These opportunities can be most beneficial to students when they include core academic courses—such as a first-year English or mathematics course—as well as courses aligned to careers. Unfortunately, the opportunity to participate in DE has been limited to a small group of students, leaving too many students unable to access the benefits DE has to offer. Among the high school class of 2019, only about one-third of white students, about one-quarter of Asian, Native American, and Hispanic students, and nearly a fifth of Black students took one or more DE courses during their time in high school. Other research has documented that students from low-income backgrounds are significantly underrepresented among DE course-takers. English learners (ELs) and students with disabilities are also often shut out of DE opportunities. For example, during the 2017-18 school year, 50 percent of high schools attended by ELs offered DE courses but did not enroll any ELs in these courses; another 26 percent of schools attended by ELs did not offer any DE opportunities. Similarly, 37 percent of high schools attended by students with disabilities during the 2017-18 school year offered DE but did not enroll any students with disabilities in these courses; another 28 percent of the schools attended by students with disabilities did not offer any DE opportunities.
- Research shows that students experience barriers to DE including lack of awareness about programs, exclusionary entrance requirements, out-of-reach fees and transportation costs, or lack of prerequisite coursework. While equity gaps in DE are persistent, they are not impossible to close and can be solved with intentional policies and practices, as demonstrated by LEAs that have begun to close these gaps.
- A state or LEA may use ESSER funds to expand access to and participation in DE, particularly for those students who have been disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Student participation in DE became even more limited as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, with some institutions of higher education (IHEs) reporting double-digit percentage declines in the number of high school students who were dually enrolled.
States and LEAs may respond to the pandemic’s impact on dual enrollment by using funds to:
- Remove cost and geographic barriers to participation in DE. This may include eliminating the cost for tuition and other fees of attendance like textbooks for students from low-income backgrounds. Funds may also be used to cover students’ transportation costs, or provide transportation directly, when DE courses are offered at an IHE.
- Identify and close equity gaps in DE participation. ARP ESSER funds may be used for a systematic assessment of DE participation and outcomes to identify disparities by race, ethnicity, sex, income, and other subgroups of students, as well as to develop and implement recruitment and other strategies to ensure all students have an opportunity to access DE opportunities.
- Address a shortage of qualified instructors exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic that limits participation in DE. This includes improving the skills of the existing education workforce through tuition assistance and stipends to teachers so that they can complete the education and training required to meet postsecondary credentialing requirements for teaching DE courses. It also includes the strategic recruitment of educators in hard-to-fill instructional areas using targeted incentives.
- Ensure that all students receive the academic acceleration benefits offered by DE programs and are able to use the credits they have earned when they enroll in postsecondary education. This includes establishing an articulation and credit transfer agreement that enables all students to use DE credits at an IHE.
- Expand access to DE for students with disabilities and English learners. This includes providing professional development for DE coordinators and instructors on ways to offer scaffolded supports and other strategies to meet the needs of these students; supporting collaboration with special educators and vocational rehabilitation counselors to integrate DE with other transition activities; and carrying out targeted outreach and recruitment activities.
- Create dual language programs for English learners complementing English language acquisition instruction with college level courses in English learners’ native language. This language preparation affords English learners a competitive advantage in the workforce and acknowledges that there is an earnings premium in the labor market associated with employees who have proficiency in multiple languages.