High school students can benefit from dual enrollment in college-level courses, but how much depends on the content of the course and where it takes place.
New research from the National Center for Postsecondary Research at Teachers College, Columbia University shows dual enrollment has strong positive effects on college enrollment and completion.
One study that followed all high school seniors in Florida from the classes of 2000-01 and 2001-02 found that those in dual-enrollment classes taken on college campuses were 12 percent more likely to go to college and 7 percent more likely to earn a bachelor's degree than similar students who did not participate. Yet, students who took dual-enrollment classes exclusively on a high school campus showed no statistically significant gains.
Why the difference? It could be that students studying in a college setting are getting more of a taste of the physical and social aspects of college life, learning to navigate the campus, says Katherine Hughes, assistant director for Work and Education Reform Research at the Community College Research Center at Teachers College. Another reason could be that the more motivated students are signing up for the on-campus classes and, therefore, have better outcomes, which is a factor hard to control for in a study.
The study also found dual enrollment had the same positive impact on student outcomes as participation in Advanced Placement. While dual-enrollment students were more likely than AP students to initially enroll in two-year rather than four-year colleges, they went on to earn bachelor's degrees at similar rates.
A second study from Columbia reveals that the type of dual-enrollment class makes a difference in the long-term benefit on college success.
Researchers tracked Florida high school seniors in the same time period who took a college algebra placement test and discovered students who passed the test and enrolled in a rigorous dual-enrollment college algebra class were 16 percent more likely to go to college and 23 percent more likely to earn a college degree than similar students who did not take the class.
However, for marginal students whose GPA was just above the minimum necessary to participate, taking dual enrollment had no statistical impact on their likelihood to enroll in or complete college.
The message to school students: Work through the challenging requirements early, says Hughes. "Being able to get those requirements out of the way early seems to provide some momentum," she says. The advice is especially appropriate, with so many students mired in remedial classes upon entering collegethat might be avoided with more rigorous high school studies.
States have increasingly embraced dual enrollment as a promising way to help students get a head start on a path to college. Hughes says no one study should be the basis for public policy, but this research merits attention. One hurdle schools may face in providing more on-campus dual enrollment, she adds, is the cost of transportation, as many districts are strapped for money.