Dual Enrollment, Multiple Issues

Texas study confirms many theories about why such programs encourage college enrollment and completion, but also identifies frustrations of both students and faculty members.

August 20, 2018
Austin High School (left) and U of Texas at Austin

In college admissions circles and among those trying to encourage more students to go to college, dual enrollment is the subject of much praise. When students take courses in high school and earn college credit, the theory goes, they will be better prepared for college, more likely to enroll and more likely to graduate. The growing popularity of the Advanced Placement program is one part of dual enrollment (especially at high schools that send many on to college), but many high schools have their own programs.

A new report by the University of Texas System confirms those positive views of dual enrollment, and as well as the growing popularity of the programs. But the report also finds doubts about dual enrollment -- both among students and faculty members throughout the UT System. The report provides a more nuanced view of the issues than one hears at many higher education meetings.

University of Texas students are definitely using dual-enrollment options, with 61 percent of those who entered the system in 2015 bringing some kind of college credit with them. In that year, 23 percent enrolled with Advanced Placement credit only, 27 percent with other dual-enrollment credit only and 11 percent with both types of credit. The median number of credits, at 18, is significant. Latino students were the most likely to arrive with dual credit, with 45 percent doing so (while making up only 35 percent of all students).

Much of the data in the report back up the reasons cited by supporters of the programs. Those who enter UT with some credit from dual programs are more likely to be retained and graduate than are those who enter without credit, and they have higher grade point averages in their first, second and third years. Students who enroll with credit are also, on average, graduating one semester earlier than those who enter without any credit.

In surveys and focus group discussions with students, they praised these results. But students were also ambivalent.

"Some students criticized dual credit for giving a false sense of confidence, reducing time for exploration due to requirements already being met through dual credit, and restricting opportunities because of a shorter time in college," the report says.

Related to those issues, many students reported feeling pressure to immediately enroll in courses to start a major -- rather than exploring different fields.

Faculty members interviewed expressed a number of concerns, the report says.

"Faculty from UT System academic institutions are concerned with the quality and rigor of dual credit courses, and they mentioned several things that might affect quality and rigor," the report says. "First, they were concerned about whether dual credit courses had the same learning objectives, instructional materials, and assessment/measurement (tests and papers) as a four-year college course, recommending that students compare course syllabi. They also wondered whether the academic environment within high schools provides the resources (lab space and collaborative peers) for dual credit instructors to produce high-quality college courses. Finally, the faculty expressed their concern that course quality might be limited when it is taught by high school-based instructors who shift between the roles of teacher and college instructor throughout the day and have the flexibility to let students retake tests and extend deadlines."


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