College & Workforce Readiness

Dual Enrollment: Good for Colleges, Not Just Students, Survey Finds

By Catherine Gewertz — November 07, 2016 4 min read
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Dual-enrollment programs have many well documented benefits for students: They can help focus them on college, increase the chances that they’ll apply and enroll, and help them do better once they arrive on campus. But a new survey suggests that colleges see distinct benefits in dual-enrollment programs for themselves, too.

A survey published Monday shows that most higher education institutions view dual-enrollment programs as an important tool for recruiting students and managing their overall enrollment strategies.

Seventy-eight percent of responding institutions said they use the programs, which allow high school students to earn college credit, as a way to recruit students, and nearly 6 in 10 said it plays a role in their strategic enrollment management. The institutions also cited serving the community and meeting their mission as key benefits of dual-enrollment programs.

The American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers partnered with Hobsons, which makes the Naviance college- and career-exploration system, to survey AACRAO members about dual enrollment, since such programs are soaring in popularity.

As Education Week reported in September, students are flocking to the programs, drawn by the promise of an academic challenge, and the chance to pursue subjects that might not be available in high school. But many students have had trouble transferring the dual-enrollment credits they earn to the colleges they ultimately attend.

In the AACRAO/Hobsons survey, 87 percent of institutions reported that they accept most dual-enrollment credits. But 22 percent of those that offer dual-enrollment programs reported that they’ve had difficulty getting those credits to transfer to other colleges or universities. Little research has been done on this aspect of dual-enrollment, so that 22 percent figure is one of the first—if not the first—clear signals of how big a problem exists nationally with transferability.

Wendy Kilgore, AACRAO’s director of research, said institutions that offer dual enrollment should take the transferability issue to heart and respond with improved counseling for students.

“It’s the responsibility of higher education to clearly communicate the strengths and weaknesses of the dual-enrollment system,” she said in an interview. “Someone needs to say, ‘Here is where we know these classes transfer. Where are you thinking of going?’ There’s definitely an implication for practice from our end.”

What kinds of things get in the way when students try to transfer their dual-enrollment credits? The survey shines some light on that. Responding colleges and universities said they found transfer problems with credits that:

  • Also met high school graduation requirements (such programs are often called as “concurrent” enrollment programs, since they allow a course to count for both high school and college credit)
  • Were from a course taught on a high school campus
  • Were from a course taught by a high school instructor, even if they were qualified to teach college courses
  • Did not directly meet a requirement for the student’s chosen major.

Echoes of those issues are reflected in the chart below, too, which shows what institutions think about when they consider whether to allow a transfer of dual-enrollment credits.

For colleges and universities that don’t currently offer dual-enrollment programs, cost is a major factor standing in their way (who pays for dual enrollment varies a lot state to state). But an even bigger barrier is something more amorphous: “institutional culture.” That isn’t explained in the report. But the “other barriers” category includes things like lack of sufficient staff to offer the programs, lack of alignment with a college’s mission, the perception that community colleges are already filling that niche, and concerns that high school students aren’t truly prepared for the college courses that might be offered.

Officials at colleges and universities contributed a rich array of views to the survey, in extended sidebars that profile the added value of dual enrollment at their institutions. One got right to the point when discussing the power the courses can have to interest students in applying to join the freshman class.

“We have found that a number of dual enrolled students fall in love with the campus and then matriculate as freshmen, so it is a great recruiting tool,” the unnamed official said.

Another pointed to dual-enrollment programs’ potential to boost campus diversity. “As an emerging [Hispanic-serving institution], a strong dual enrollment program can help both our feeder district with increasing graduation rates and help increase the Latino population on campus to better reflect our surrounding community,” the official wrote.

Angela Hobby, the vice president of enrollment management at the Wiregreass Georgia Technical College wrote that its dual-enrollment program offers better course options for high school students in a rural area. More of those students are choosing to enroll as full-fledged students after graduation, too. The college’s matriculation rate for dual-enrollment students has risen to 18 percent from 10 percent.

At Holyoke Community College in Western Massachusetts, the dual enrollment program has persuaded students to think about college who hadn’t seriously considered it before.

“Although many dual-enrollment students expect to go to college, quite a few have never considered college as an option,” writes Renee Tastad, dean of enrollment management at that institution. “This program enables them to realize that college is a very real possibility.”

For more stories about dual enrollment, see:

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A version of this news article first appeared in the High School & Beyond blog.

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