Jumpstart on College and Careers: Dual Enrollment Research, Policies, and Effective Practice

Jumpstart on College and Careers: Dual Enrollment Research, Policies, and Effective Practice
Jumpstart on College and Careers: Dual Enrollment Research, Policies, and Effective Practice

In this forum, co-sponsored by the American Youth Policy Forum and the National Center for Postsecondary Research, panelists reviewed the latest research on the effectiveness of dual enrollment programs (particularly for student populations that long have been underrepresented in higher education), shared insights from a successful dual enrollment program, and recommended specific ways in which state and federal policymakers can support such models.

Thomas Bailey, Director of the National Center for Postsecondary Research, led off the forum with a brief introduction to dual enrollment (see fact sheet), an overview of student participation in dual enrollment programs across the country and a summary of recent research into those students’ academic achievement, college attendance, and other measures.

Dual enrollment programs come in many forms, Bailey explained, such as “concurrent” or “dual” credit, and “early college high schools.” While each model has its distinct characteristics, all are designed to allow high school students to enroll in college-level courses (with the hope that they’ll earn college credit).

During the 2002-03 school year, according to data from the U.S. Department of Education—data that probably are outdated already, but which represent the most recent figures available—students at 71% of the nation’s high schools took courses for dual credit, meaning that they earned credits that counted toward a high school diploma and a college degree simultaneously. Overall, more than 800,000 high school students took a college course that year. According to state and program data, participation appears to be growing fast, especially at community colleges.

This growth in dual enrollment, said Bailey, represents an increasing awareness that the U.S. no longer leads the world in college enrollment rates, and it suggests a national commitment to boost those rates, thus enabling larger numbers of low-income students to enter the middle class. It also suggests a widespread acknowledgement that high school and college curricula are not well-aligned and that dual enrollment programs are viewed as an effort to bridge the two. And, it is hoped that dual enrollment will imbue the 12th grade with greater significance, giving students a reason to work hard through the end of high school, while introducing them to the academic culture and expectations they will encounter in college.

To some degree, early college and dual credit programs appear to be competing with long-established Advanced Placement classes, but to a greater extent they reflect educators’ desire to reach out to students that have never participated in AP in large numbers, particularly students “in the middle,” or those that could enroll in and succeed at college if given a little more academic support and encouragement. And, added Bailey in an aside, this also happens to be the rationale behind the Fast Track to College bill that Senator Kohl recently introduced in the US Congress, and which promises to expand dual enrollment programs still further.

Do these programs work?  Five years ago, Bailey conducted a literature review on this topic and found there to be very little hard evidence one way or the other. Today, he remains disappointed in the overall quality and scope of the available data, but a couple of his own recent studies do give reason for optimism. One study followed the academic progress of 2,300 students in New York City who were enrolled in a dual credit program focusing on occupational training, and the other, much larger, study focused on 33,000 students in Florida, a state that collects extensive data on students from kindergarten through college, giving researchers an unusually rich set of material for analysis.

In Florida, Bailey found, participation in dual enrollment was positively associated with students’ success in earning a high school diploma, enrolling in college, earning higher college grades, and earning greater numbers of college credits, and these relationships were particularly strong for low-income students and males. The findings in the New York City study were less dramatic but also showed a positive relationship between dual enrollment and several indicators of college achievement.

Bailey is currently looking at a new and much deeper set of data from Florida, and will report additional findings in the coming months. Further, he expects to complete a study next year of students in dual credit career and technical classes at multiple California high schools, and he is looking for opportunities to conduct another state-wide study that will control for the self-selection of students into dual enrollment programs. Bailey concluded that we are still in need of research that establishes a causal link to positive college outcomes.

Joel Vargas, Program Director at Jobs for the Future, began his presentation with an overview of what the states are doing to support dual enrollment programs, and he then turned his attention to federal policy.

Most states, said Vargas, have given explicit support to dual enrollment for many years, and currently all but two states have relevant policies on the books, but there remains a lot of work to be done to improve state policy in this area, especially to extend dual credit opportunities to a broad range of students and not just to the highest achievers.

The best dual credit programs—as JFF describes in its 2008 publication On Ramp to College <www.jff.org/Documents/OnRamp.pdf> involve a well-designed, coherent sequence of courses, instead of the cafeteria-style course options that high schools typically offer. Those programs are careful to focus on real college-level material, pegged to explicit college course standards, with the opportunity to earn college credit. They offer classes taught either by college instructors or by high school teachers with the relevant content knowledge who are approved to teach by a college. They charge minimal or no student fees for low-income or all students, and they offer a range of academic and non-academic supports to help ease students’ transition to college.

In order to support such high-quality programs, states should follow a few key recommendations: First, they should do no harm, which in this case means that schools should not lose substantial state ADA for students who take college courses.  This forces schools into a trade-off between funding dual enrollment and funding other important programs.  In addition to money to help defray college costs for students, high schools still have costs associated with serving dual enrollees. Second, states should ensure that course credits are fully transferable, to colleges and universities (currently, Florida offers the best example with their statewide course numbering system that ensures common policy on the transfer of credits). Third, states should invest in some degree of quality control, in order to ensure the skill of the teachers offering college-level classes and to certify that courses and course examinations are in fact college-level. Finally, states should make available some amount of start-up funding for schools and districts wishing to launch dual enrollment programs.

At present, said Vargas, a number of states have in place some of these policy supports, but no state has all of them. In some cases, the relevant policies were set up to allow colleges to compete with school districts for “gifted and talented” students, with K-12 funding used to pay for students’ tuition.

A couple of interesting state programs might serve as models. In 2005, Pennsylvania launched a $7 million fund (now $10 million) to support local high school-college partnerships, with incentives built in for schools to provide dual-credit class to low-income students. And Georgia has expanded its Hope Scholarships into the ACCEL program, which supports dual enrollment as long as course credits transfer statewide.  Florida and Georgia are able to link K-12 and postsecondary data, a precondition for doing robust analyses of the effects of dual enrollment.

At the federal level, Vargas concluded, the first recommendation is the same: do no harm—the federal government should be aware of policies that stand in the way of dual enrollment because they treat high school and college as silos which may force those systems to work at cross purposes. For example, the Academic Competitiveness Grants —  which provide extra financial aid for Pell eligible students who take a rigorous high school curriculum – used to inadvertently exclude high school graduates with dual enrollment experience because statute said that any student “previously enrolled” in college was ineligible. Fortunately, this rule was changed in the most recent version of the HEA. Second, federal policy should create better opportunities for its various college access programs to work in tandem. For example, GEAR UP state and local grantees may now use funds to support students in taking college classes through dual enrollment.  And last, Congress could support local high school-college partnerships and states that wish to design dual enrollment programs that successfully support and serve underrepresented students.. For example, the recently proposed Fast Track to College bill would provide both local start-up grants to create early college high schools and other sorts of dual enrollment programs and grants to states that wish to support such efforts in policy.

Heather Sherry, Director of K-20 Articulation at the Florida Department of Education, described the various ways in which Florida supports dual enrollment.

In Florida, roughly 32,000 high school students per year (including private school and home-schooled students) participate in dual enrollment programs, pursuing anything from a single college-level course to an entire Associate’s degree. The state requires that students must have at least a 3.0 grade point average (or at least a 2.0 GPA for students wishing to take Career and Technical Education courses) and must pass a college placement test in the given subject in order to participate.

Florida makes dual enrollment (and related textbooks) available at no cost to public school students, and both school districts and community colleges can claim dual enrollment students for funding purposes (FTE). In order to ensure the seamless transfer of college credit, the state has implemented a Statewide Course Numbering System (SCNS) with over a 100,000 courses assigned distinct numbers.  Any postsecondary course that is part of the SCNS (except for remedial and physical education courses) is eligible for dual enrollment and there is a guarantee that all credits earned will be accepted for credit at every college or university.

Dual enrollment agreements between school districts and local community colleges are required by law and updated every year, with faculty specifying their course requirements and making sure that students have access to relevant information about course guidelines, advising, enrollment, texbooks, and so forth. Partner institutions are required to submit specific plans aimed at reducing the need for remedial classes, expanding student participation in Tech Prep programs, and providing effective professional development services to teachers of dual enrollment courses. Florida has also approved a number of statewide dual enrollment agreements which include summer courses on special topics—such as a new course on politics and government—available to students across the state.

Further, Florida’s department of education publishes a list of dual enrollment courses that specifies precisely how each course meets the state’s high school graduation requirements and how many high school credits it earns (the list is available at www.fldoe.org/articulation). All 3 credit dual enrollment classes count for at least a half year’s credit toward completing high school subject area or elective requirements, and 267 courses are currently certified as meeting a full year’s high school requirement.

Until this year, Florida’s accountability system focused solely on the FCAT (the state’s standardized achievement test), but the formula is in the process of being revised so that school “grades” will depend only 50% on FCAT scores and 50% on other factors, such as high school students’ success in earning college credit.

Finally, while 80% of Florida’s dual enrollment classes are currently offered on college campuses, the state expects to see growth in courses located at high schools, as well as growth in the numbers of students using the state’s new on-line advising system, which helps 9th graders to plan out a rigorous sequence of high school courses, with an emphasis on taking dual credit and other accelerated classes.

Daniel Voloch, Coordinator of College Now at Hostos Community College, began with an overview of College Now, a dual enrollment program offered by CUNY’s 17 undergraduate colleges in partnership with New York City public schools. Last year, over 28,000 students—representing 300+ high schools—participated in the program. Among CUNY’s first-time freshman from New York City high schools who enrolled in 2007, 24% of students enrolling in community colleges, 37% in comprehensive colleges,  and 45% of students enrolling in senior colleges had been involved in College Now.

The goals of the program are to increase high school graduation rates, college participation, and college success among urban public school students. So far, evaluations are positive, showing statistically significant gains in students’ college GPAs, persistence over time, and accumulation of college credits, compared to students who did not participate. From 2002 – 2007, more than 35,900 College Now students enrolled in CUNY in pursuit of associate or baccalaureate degrees or in certificate programs.

The College Now Program at Hostos Community College (HCC) is located in the South Bronx and mainly serves students coming from the area’s forty high schools, as well as students from a transitional high school/GED program .  In 2003, College Now at HCC enrolled 263 students in college credit courses; by 2007, participation in these courses had risen to more than 900. In 2007-2008, 40% of participating students were male, over 90% were students of color, and college credit courses had an average successful completion rate (C or better) of 85%.  Currently, over twenty courses are offered, with the most popular being courses in psychology, criminal justice, and English composition. Additionally, College Now offers professional development throughout the year to participating faculty (all of whom are HCC instructors), with a focus on guiding students along the transition from high school to college.

Many of the College Now students at Hostos Community College will be first-generation college students, and the program allows these students to begin to strengthen their identification as college-bound and develop the confidence, knowledge of college practices, and academic skills necessary to succeed in college. Furthermore, students receive college IDs, and have full access to the library and other campus resources, which many faculty require them to utilize as part of their coursework.

Voloch told of one student who described the HCC library as her favorite place in the Bronx, a place that’s quiet and safe and which allows her to envision herself as a real college student. Another powerful lesson, said Voloch, came from a group of students participating in the Bronx Civic Scholars Institute, a summer program focused on public policy, with an emphasis on internships and field trips. When asked to meet up in midtown Manhattan, a couple of girls called in, saying they had never been to Midtown before and were scared that they would get lost. Many students have the sense that they don’t belong in such places, Voloch concluded, and one of the best parts of the College Now program is that it helps them gain the confidence to go anywhere.

Highlights from the Question and Answer Session

The first question addressed the paucity of the kinds of long-term student performance data needed to trace student progress from high school through college, allowing Bailey to do the kind of research he would like. Answered Bailey, there’s a lot of interest in doing so, both in the states and at the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), but it will take time. A study by the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems found that only twelve states were close to being able to collect such data.

An audience member representing NCES said that the agency does recognize this need. It has given out grants to twenty states, so far, to help them link their long-term K-12, college, and other data sets.

A second question asked about the labor market outcomes of dual enrollment, particularly whether there’s evidence that specific models of dual enrollment are related to career outcomes. Bailey responded that the current research in Florida is pursuing such questions, comparing the career trajectories of students who took different kinds of dual-credit classes, and who took them on high school or college campuses. The existing data doesn’t get at those issues, though.

A third question asked about the potential effect that increases in dual enrollment might have on the quality of college  classes.  Are students in dual enrollment courses really learning as much as college students who take the college course?  Voloch said that many of the classes in his program use the same syllabus, textbooks, and exams used in  regular college classes. Sherry added that in Florida, college faculty are now required to review the content of all dual enrollment classes to make sure that they are true equivalents. Further, in most cases, college faculty have no knowledge as to which of their students are taking the course as part of a dual credit program, so it’s unlikely that they treat them any differently from regular students.  If anything, she said, dual enrolled students tend to do better than regular college students, probably because of their self-selection. Bailey mentioned that a colleague did her dissertation research on this topic, and she found that some dual credit courses were truly equivalent while others were not.  The bigger finding, though, was that it’s hard to say precisely what “college-level” means, since there’s a lot of variation in syllabi, assignments, content, and expectations. That raises an important policy question, noted Vargas. How should course quality be inspected, and who should do the inspecting? Sherry pointed out that Florida has long used course content to determine course equivalence, but the state is now trying to look at student outcomes and competencies.

A fourth question asked whether the presence of high school students might be bringing all sorts of bad high school behavior to college campuses.  Voloch said that while that’s a concern, the College Now model at Hostos Community College is primarily cohort-based, so the high school students take classes all together, not with college students. Also, the students come from a range of high schools, so they don’t necessarily know each other, and that, combined with the intimidating nature of the college campus, keeps them focused.  The real need, he added, is to help faculty define clear expectations, which help students to stay focused. In any case, he’s never seen any major behavioral problems in his program.

Finally, a question was raised as to male/female differences in participation and outcomes of dual enrollment. Bailey noted that females now make up 60% of community college enrollments overall. At HCC, added Voloch, males have accounted for 30% of the college enrollment, but College Now has raised its male participation to 40% in his program. In the Florida research, said Bailey, the association between dual enrollment and college outcomes was stronger for males than females.



Dr. Thomas R. Bailey, is the George and Abby O’Neill Professor of Economics and Education in the Department of International and Transcultural Studies at Teachers College, Columbia University. Dr. Bailey holds a PhD in labor economics from MIT. He is an economist, with specialties in education, labor economics, and econometrics.

In 1996, with support from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, Dr. Bailey established the Community College Research Center (CCRC) at Teachers College, which conducts a large portfolio of qualitative and quantitative research based on fieldwork at community colleges and analysis of national- and state-level datasets. The research focuses particularly on access and student success at community college, with a particular focus on the experiences low income and minority students. In July 2006, Bailey became the Director of the National Center for Postsecondary Research (NCPR), funded by a five-year grant from the Institute of Education Sciences of the U.S. Department of Education. Since 1992, Dr. Bailey has also been the Director of the Institute on Education (IEE) and the Economy at Teachers College.

His articles have appeared in a wide variety of education, policy-oriented and academic journals, and he authored or co-authored several books on the employment and training of immigrants and the extent and effects of on-the-job training. His most recent book, co-edited with Vanessa Morest, is Defending the Community College Equity Agenda (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006). Other books include Working Knowledge: Work-Based Learning and Education Reform (Routledge, 2004), co-authored with Katherine Hughes and David Moore;. Manufacturing Advantage (Cornell University Press, 2000), written with Eileen Appelbaum, Peter Berg, and Arne Kalleberg; and The Double Helix of Education and the Economy (IEE, 1992), co-authored with Sue Berryman.

Joel Vargas Ed.D studies and advises on state policies to promote improved rates of high school and postsecondary success for underserved students. He has focused in particular on new education pathways that blend high school and college, such as early college high schools and comprehensive dual enrollment programs. He has directed, initiated, and studied a variety of middle school and high school programs designed to promote college-going for underrepresented students. He also has been a teacher, editor, and research assistant for the Civil Rights Project at Harvard University, coeditor of Double the Numbers: Increasing Postsecondary Credentials for Underrepresented Youth (Harvard Education Press) and Minding the Gap: Why Integrating High School with College Makes Sense and How to Do It (Harvard Education Press).

Heather R. Sherry, Ph.D.

Dr. Heather Sherry has been the Director of K-20 Articulation for the Florida Department of Education since 2004.  Previously, she served as the Director of Articulation and Student Services for the Florida Division of Community Colleges and as a legislative analyst for the Florida House of Representatives.  Throughout her career, Dr. Sherry has worked extensively in the areas of postsecondary transition, acceleration mechanisms, and statewide articulation policy.  She earned a graduate certificate in Education Policy and received her Ph.D. in Higher Education from Florida State University in 2001.

Daniel Voloch, is the Director of College Now at Hostos Community College, a dual enrollment program which provides college credit courses and high school credit workshops to over 1,400 high school students each year with the goal of helping prepare students for college success. Prior to joining College Now, Daniel served as the director of an applied learning and civic education program, and taught middle school and high school history. In 2007-2008, Daniel was awarded a Revson Fellowship at Columbia University, and researched the role that comprehensive dual enrollment programs can play in both preparing students and strengthening the connections between secondary and post-secondary institutions.


Joel Vargas Presentation Materials: Dual Enrollment:  The Role Federal Policy can Play

Dr. Thomas Bailey Presentation Materials: Jumpstart on College: Dual Enrollment Research

CUNY First-Time Freshmen from New York City High Schools with College Now Experience by CUNY College Fall 2002 to Fall 2007

A Double the Numbers Publication from Jobs for the Future ” On Ramp to College“, A State Policymaker’s Guide to Dual Enrollment
By Nancy Hoffman, Joel Vargas, and Janet Santos, MAY 2008

Enrollments and Unduplicated Student Counts in College Now Programs “Excluding The College of Staten Island” Discovery Institute Program
2001-2002 to 2006-2007

Enrollments and Unduplicated Student Counts “In The College of Staten Island Discovery Institute Program” 2001-2002 to 2006-2007

Enrollments and Successful Course Outcomes in College Now College Credit Courses Excluding Summer Programs, 2001-2002 to 2006-2007

Dr. Thomas R. Bailey
National Center for Postsecondary Research
George and Abby O’Neill Professor of Economics and Education Teachers College
Columbia University

Box 174
525 West 120th Street
New York, NY 10027

Joel Vargas
Program Director
Jobs for the Future
88 Broad Street
Boston, MA 02110

Heather Sherry
Director K-20 Articulation,
Florida Department of Education
Turlington Building
Suite 1514
325 West Gaines Street
Tallahassee, FL 32399

Daniel Voloch
Coordinator, College Now
Hostos Community College
500 Grand Concourse, B-439
Bronx, NY  10451


The American Youth Policy Forum (AYPF), a nonprofit, nonpartisan professional development organization based in Washington, DC, provides learning opportunities for policy leaders, practitioners, and researchers working on youth and education issues at the national, state, and local levels. AYPF events and publications are made possible by contributions from philanthropic foundations. For a complete list, click here.