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College & Workforce Readiness

Students From Educated Families More Likely to Take Dual-Credit Courses

By Catherine Gewertz — February 05, 2019 3 min read
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Students are much more likely to take courses for college credit while they’re still in high school if they’re white or Asian or have college-educated parents, a new report shows.

Data released Feb. 5 by the U.S. Department of Education show that 34 percent of all high school students take dual-credit courses. That figure rises to 42 percent for students whose parents have bachelor’s degrees. And it drops to 26 percent for students whose parents didn’t complete high school.

Likewise, being white or Asian significantly boosted the likelihood that students will take college-credit courses in high school. Thirty-eight percent of white and Asian students took such courses, compared with 30 percent of Hispanic students, 27 percent of African-American students, and 30 percent of students of other races.

The report is drawn from an ongoing federal study that tracks 23,000 students who were 9th graders in 2009.

The disparities in coursetaking suggest that many students who could benefit from those classes are not getting access to—or taking advantage of—that opportunity.

Dual-credit classes offer students the chance to take more challenging classes in high school, and also accumulate credits toward a college degree.

Joel Vargas, a vice president at Jobs for the Future, which focuses on preparing high school students for college and work, said that he and others who study pathways to higher education are concerned about patterns that suggest students are getting unequal access to an important opportunity.

An Area of Growing Concern

Recent data released by the Education Department’s Civil Rights Data Collection were among the first to show racial disparities in access to dual-enrollment programs, Vargas said. One analysis of that data showed white students more than twice as likely to take dual-credit courses as Latino or African-American students.

“It’s really a shame, because we know that when those programs are designed well, they can have a benefit for all populations, including underserved populations,” Vargas said.

Without special attention to policies and practices to ensure equal access, “you’ll get stats like these,” he said.

What are those areas that need special attention? One is ensuring that state or local policies don’t raise financial barriers for students, Vargas said. If families must shoulder the entire cost of dual-enrollment courses, for instance, that will limit some students’ opportunities.

Unequal academic preparation leading up to the dual-credit option also hampers’ students chances. And schools must work harder to ensure that all students are fully informed about the opportunity to take dual-enrollment courses if they’re available.

“Many schools still set it up as student- or parent-activated option, and we know who tends to activate those options,” Vargas said.

‘A Persistent, Stratified Approach’ to Higher-Level Course Placement?

David Hawkins, the policy director for the National Association for College Admission Counseling, said the new data “unfortunately mirror the larger phenomenon” of white students from higher socioeconomic groups taking college-prep coursework at higher rates than their black and Hispanic peers.

“School counselors and other school leaders will want to be mindful of these disparities to ensure that all students have the information and support they need to take advantage of these courses,” Hawkins wrote in an email.

“Administrators and policymakers would benefit from asking themselves whether these data suggest a persistent, stratified approach to placing students into high-level coursework.”

See also: Are Dual-Enrollment Programs Overpromising?

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