A vast majority of U.S. high schools offered their students courses for college credit in 2002-03, with larger public schools more likely than smaller ones to do so, reveals a federal report unveiled this month.
The report from the National Center for Education Statistics looks at the availability of “dual credit” courses—those for which students can earn both high school and college credit—and at exam-based programs such as Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate at public high schools.
It found that 71 percent of schools offered dual-credit courses during the 2002-03 academic year. Sixty-seven percent offered AP courses, and 2 percent, IB courses.
The report, along with another released simultaneously that examines “dual enrollment”—the number of high school students also enrolled in degree-granting postsecondary institutions—provides a picture of the options available at public schools to students trying to bridge the gap between high school and college.
In a statement announcing the release of the reports, U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings said the findings present “credible evidence that we need to do all we can to ensure that all students, and especially those that need our help the most, have more opportunities to further their education after high school.”
Policymakers Take Notice
The transition from high school to college has attracted increasing interest in recent months from lawmakers, both at the state and federal levels. In February, at the national high school summit, Democratic Gov. Mark Warner of Virginia, the chairman of the National Governors Association, proposed 10 steps that states could take to improve schools, including dual-enrollment courses in college and high school and the creation of online “virtual” high schools (“Summit Fuels Push to Improve High Schools,” March 9, 2005.)
At present, 38 states have policies supporting programs that smooth the transition from high school to college.
President Bush in his budget proposal this year proposed $125 million in additional funds for states to set up dual programs and other avenues for high school students to earn college credits.
The NCES report on dual enrollment found that among the estimated 2,050 postsecondary institutions with such programs, about 110 targeted high school students academically at risk.
The study found that 57 percent of all degree-granting institutions had high schoolers taking courses for college credit. Altogether, 5 percent of students in U.S. high schools, or a total of 813,000, enrolled in courses for college credit during the 2002-03 academic year.
More than three-quarters of the students took courses for college credit at community colleges, 15 percent took them at public four-year colleges, and 8 percent took courses at private colleges.
At Blue Mountain Community College in Pendleton, Ore., high school students can take a college-level course for just $10 per credit. Courses range from vocational ones, such as welding and livestock evaluation, to more academic introductions to college writing and college chemistry.
Program coordinator Theresa Pihl said the low cost encourages students who would otherwise not consider going to college to try their hand. “When they graduate from high school with college credits, they think, ‘College is not as big a step as I thought; I can do this,’ ” she said.
‘An Initial Taste’
But some observers point out that no solid proof exists that college-credit courses ease the shift from the precollegiate years to higher education.
“If you look over the last 20 years, the fastest-growing part of the high school curriculum has been AP, IB, and college-level work. At the same time, the fastest-growing part of the college curriculum is [freshman] remedial work,” said Kati Haycock, the executive director of the Education Trust, a Washington-based research and advocacy group.
“So at some level, it is like they are reaching over to do each other’s work,” she said, adding that there could be a variety of other ways to accelerate the preparation of students who need help getting to college.
But administrators in some public school systems with dual-credit programs say they have helped students move on to college.
In Texas’ 2,000-student Sweeny Independent School District, 65 miles from Houston, dual-credit and distance-learning programs in partnership with Brazosport Community College have been offered since the late 1990s, said Superintendent Randy Miksch.
The courses, which are given on both the high school and college campuses, have proved tremendously beneficial to students, Mr. Miksch said.
“It gives them an initial taste of what college will be like, and if they have success here, it makes them feel they can achieve more than they ever thought they were going to,” he said.
More than half the district’s high school students, in fact, have enrolled for next year’s courses in government, U.S. history, and English, he said.
Mr. Miksch said his own two children took dual-credit courses, “and it was a great opportunity to get them started in college.” The superintendent pointed out that fees for taking courses at the community college were also lower than those at universities.
And because his children took classes on the high school campus and were still staying at home while taking the college-credit courses, “these were the most economic college hours I was going to get,” he quipped.