• Confessions of a Community College Dean

    In which a veteran of cultural studies seminars in the 1990s moves into academic administration and finds himself a married suburban father of two. Foucault, plus lawn care.


2 Questions for Educational Researchers

Queries about dual enrollment.

July 7, 2021

These are honest questions, with no gotcha intended. I’m hoping that some of my wise and worldly readers will know the answers to them. If they haven’t been studied, I hope that some enterprising scholars of higher education might take up the challenge.

Dual enrollment, concurrent enrollment and early-college high school programs have become much more widespread in the U.S. over the last five to 10 years. In those programs, high school students take college classes while in high school, receiving transcripted credit (and grades) for those classes. Community colleges are typically the most involved sector of higher education in dual and concurrent enrollment, though some four-year colleges are in the mix as well.

While there’s tremendous variation in the details of implementation -- such as instructor credentials, location of classes, sequence of courses and the like -- a definitional consistency is that they involve students of younger than traditional age. In some cases, students may be as young as 14 or 15.

Given all that, I have a couple of questions for which I hope someone has good data.

First, has anyone done a systematic study on dual enrollment and remedial placement?

We’ve moved to multifactor placement for math and directed self-placement for English for our students who have graduated high school. Early results are encouraging. The idea is to prevent false negatives and unnecessary time and money spent in remedial classes. But for younger students, some of the multiple factors don’t make sense, such as looking at their grade for Algebra II. (Many wouldn’t have taken it yet.) And if directed self-placement is a leap of faith with 18-year-olds, it’s even more so for 10th graders.

Or is it? I honestly don’t know. (Ten years ago, I would have scoffed at directed self-placement for nearly anybody. Now I’m a fan. Evidence counts.) I don’t want to put students in classes in which they’d be hopelessly overmatched, but I also don’t want to exclude students arbitrarily.

If anyone knows of good studies on this, I’d love to hear. I’m happy to advocate in whichever direction the evidence points, assuming the evidence is good.

Second, do we have a good idea yet of how graduate schools, law schools, med schools and the like look at grades earned at 15?

I’m not convinced that a student who earned a 3.8 starting at traditional age is necessarily stronger than one who earned a 3.8 once she got to college, but who earned, say, a 3.0 in college classes while in high school. But the cumulative GPA of the former would be higher than for the latter, and selective graduate institutions have to exclude based on something.

As a dedicated community college advocate, I like to err on the side of inclusion. When in doubt, I tend to say let’s throw the doors open and let as many people learn as we can. But there’s a larger political economy out there with its own rules, many of which lean in directions I wouldn’t personally have chosen. I wouldn’t want to damage the prospects of dual-enrollment students by mixing in grades earned while younger. But I honestly don’t know if that fear is an accurate representation of how these places work or whether med schools and the like account for it. (I also don’t know whether dual-enrollment grades correlate closely enough with subsequent college grades that the issue is moot. That would be convenient if true.)

Does anyone out there actually know? Has it been studied empirically?

The policy implications of this question are somewhat murkier than the first. Graduate programs create their own admission criteria; presumably, they can change them. But at this point, I don’t know whether this is a time bomb or a purely hypothetical problem. If it’s the latter, I’m happy to drop it and move on. But I just don’t know.

If you know, or if you know someone who might be able to find out, I’d love to hear from you either on Twitter (@deandad) or via email (deandad at gmail dot com).

If one or both of these has never been studied empirically, I happily offer both topics to any enterprising researchers. Have at it, folks!



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