Indiana’s large and robust dual-credit initiative, with its supporting transfer policy and technology, aims to foster intentional course taking, thus maximizing opportunities for high school students to earn one-year postsecondary certificates by the time they graduate. It’s meant to overcome a common problem: high school students randomly taking postsecondary courses that don’t transfer or apply toward their degree program when they get to college, thus wasting time, energy and money.
Our state has long fully integrated course transfer and certificate/degree articulation into its dual-credit offerings: there is no daylight between the two. Likewise, we use technology to make transfer information readily accessible to students and guidance counselors. More recent technology initiatives help Indiana promote and equitably scale certificate completion options in high schools throughout the state.
A Foundation of Policies Supporting Dual Credit and Transfer
State attention on dual-credit credential completion is focused on one-year certificates instead of associate degrees for two reasons: resources and impact. Providing needed courses and qualified teachers to support one-year certificates, along with guidance/student support services and technology, is more feasible than the resources needed for associate degrees, and completing a certificate is within reach for so many more students than completing an associate degree, hence the greater impact.
Transfer policy, supported by infrastructure three decades in the making, applies statewide to all public institutions at all levels: courses, certificates and degrees. Indiana’s Core Transfer Library (CTL) consists of 88 courses, almost all of which transfer and apply toward degree requirements in the same way as equivalent courses at the receiving institution (those that don’t transfer as elective credit). Five independent institutions also participate in the CTL.
Two-year institutions rely heavily on the CTL to offer courses needed to complete the Indiana College Core, comprising 30 semester hours of courses that meet common, statewide competencies and learning outcomes in six areas; universities use CTL courses and many others to satisfy core requirements. Students completing the core at two-year institutions earn a certificate, in contrast to a transcript notation for those completing it at four-year institutions. The core fully transfers and applies as a block toward meeting degree requirements of virtually all associate of arts, associate of science and baccalaureate degrees offered in the public sector, as well as some independent institutions and programs.
Transfer Single Articulation Pathways (TSAPs), 2+2 associate-to-baccalaureate articulation agreements also built on common, statewide competencies, span 20 program clusters in highest-demand areas. Ivy Tech Community College of Indiana, the only statewide community college in the nation accredited as a single institution, has forged a wide and expanding range of guaranteed university program admission agreements for students completing TSAPs and other associate degrees. TSAPs, like the CTL and the Indiana College Core, are legislatively mandated, with the Indiana Commission for Higher Education (ICHE) and public institutions responsible for their implementation.
This same emphasis on intentional course taking and credential completion has been applied to career/technical education offerings, called Next Level Programs of Study (NLPS). Led by the Governor’s Workforce Cabinet, in partnership with ICHE, postsecondary competencies have been back-mapped to NLPS classes to achieve alignment with postsecondary certificates and industry certifications.
Dual Credit Growth and Outcomes
Transfer agreements apply seamlessly to all dual credit students. A 2021 ICHE study found that 64 percent of the 2018 high school graduating class had earned some postsecondary credit, a very large majority exclusively through dual credit, while most remaining students earned a combination of dual credit and credit awarded for AP exam scores. For fiscal year 2019–20, ICHE found that over 94,000 students at all secondary grade levels earned dual credit. In FY 2020–21, the two-year institutions report that 2,047 high school students earned the Indiana College Core, nearly doubling the number (1,057) who earned the core just three years ago.
Factors helping to explain this growth include: a state mandate for all high schools to offer at least two dual-credit and two AP classes, a tuition cap of $25 per dual-credit hour (Ivy Tech charges no tuition), a tuition waiver for all students eligible for free and reduced lunch, state appropriations to institutions ($45 per credit hour) for all dual-credit courses successfully completed, and free graduate courses to qualify secondary faculty to teach dual-credit courses, thanks to state and philanthropic support.
Dual credit has had a strong positive impact on students, especially those from underserved populations. Those earning dual credit went to and persisted in college at more than 1.5 times the rate of those who didn’t earn any postsecondary credit. Comparable positive outcomes were also found for Black, Hispanic and low-income students.
Maximizing Dual Credit Through Technology
Technology plays a key role in communicating transfer pathways and dual-credit opportunities, with ICHE’s TransferIN website serving as a gateway to a wealth of information on these topics, readily accessible to students, parents and counselors. TransferIN includes: interactive tables of course equivalencies for all CTL courses and of AP and CLEP (and soon Cambridge) exam scores that translate into course credit, a catalog of baccalaureate programs to which the TSAP associate degrees apply, and a list of priority liberal arts courses (those that generate state appropriations and most frequently transfer and count toward meeting the Indiana College Core).
A second statewide technology initiative, Indiana’s scaling up of Credential Engine, challenges more high schools to enable their students to complete the Indiana College Core by being transparent about which ones do or do not provide these opportunities. Besides the extensive data already published to the Indiana Credential Registry (e.g., all 3,000 certificates and degrees at public institutions), ICHE, working with Ivy Tech and Vincennes University, has already published to the registry almost 100 high schools, out of a state total of 400-plus. These high schools provide sufficient college credit courses for their students to earn the core and meet state criteria for recognition as a delivery site for the core, including a memorandum of understanding with Ivy Tech or Vincennes. Being public about where the core is available creates an incentive for the remaining 300-plus high schools, in partnership with the Indiana Department of Education and ICHE, to determine how to extend the core to those schools as well.
What’s Next in Indiana? Learner Agency to Choose Impactful, Aligned Dual-Credit Courses
Yet another technology project, just underway, will develop an application to help students select dual-credit courses that fit their ultimate undergraduate objective. In partnership with Ivy Tech, Credential Engine and ICHE, all liberal arts courses needed to complete the Indiana College Core, which in turn satisfy the associate degree component of the 2+2 TSAPs, are being published to the registry. A request for proposal will solicit bids for developing an app that will empower students to select courses directly applying toward the core/associate/baccalaureate degree pathway of interest to them. This would enable a student, for example, to take the right math and science courses required for a business or nursing degree, ensuring courses will apply as intended and avoiding “random” acts of dual credit. A similar effort could also benefit students earning CTE (NLPS) dual credit.
Done well, dual credit can bring the promise of college to more students, especially those from underserved populations. Intentional course taking, laser-focused on postsecondary certificate completion, buttressed by inseparably intertwined dual-credit and transfer policy, made fully transparent and accessible by technology, are the essential ingredients to deliver on this promise.
Ken Sauer is senior associate commissioner and chief academic officer at the Indiana Commission for Higher Education.