Low-income California students who take courses at a community college while still in high school are significantly more likely to graduate and attend a four-year college, reports a new study. The three-year study from the Community College Research Center at Columbia University’s Teachers College examined the outcomes of nearly 3,000 students who participated in dual enrollment courses.
Funded by the James Irvine Foundation, as part of the Concurrent Courses initiative, the study found that the expansion of dual enrollment programs—which allow high school students to take college courses and earn college credit—beyond high-achieving students to low income youth who struggle academically increased college attendance rates to 62% for the 2009 graduating class.
The attendance rate for students from similar academic, language, and socio-economic backgrounds, from the same graduating class, who didn’t participate in dual-enrollment programs, was 48%. Additionally, the study found that when the participating students did attend a four-year university full time they earned 20% more credits than their peers.
However, in 2010 the college attendance rates dropped for both populations being studied. Fifty-one percent of dual enrollment participants continued on to college and 44% non-participants enrolled in higher education. The study’s authors theorize that the broad based cuts to state education funding, the State of California has cut $809 million from community colleges since 2008, may have been partly to blame for the downturn in the attendance rates.
The study, which ran from 2008-2011, involved eight community colleges, five high schools, and eight school districts; it focused on students who are traditionally underrepresented in higher education—60% were students of color, 40% came from non-English speaking households, and 32% would be the first in their family to attend college.
Unlike other dual-enrollment programs, which focus on traditional academics, the Concurrent Course initiative was dedicated to encouraging students to enroll in career-focused dual enrollment courses which integrated rigorous academic preparation with career/technical subject matter and applied learning.
The programs involved varied in relation to their experience with dual enrollment—both Santa Barbara City College and City College of San Francisco had established career focused dual enrollment programs, and five of the programs were preexisting high school career/technology pathways that lacked a college component. One of the participating partnerships, which was based in Shasta, Ca., had to create an entire course sequence in order to participate in the initiative.
Career focus varied across the various programs, from nursing in Tulare, Ca. to renewable energy in Shasta. Despite the popularity of the dual-enrollment courses, the only program to experience decreasing enrollment during the study period was Sacramento. Not all of them were able to secure consistent funding sources
Los Angeles City College—which had created a five-semester course for high school students in multimedia and web development, comprising 18 college credits that led to a certificate—and the North Orange County Regional Occupational Program—which offered a pathway in education for students interested in teaching and related careers—were unable to find a revenue stream and were discontinued after the Irvine Foundation grant was exhausted.
In order to facilitate the expansion of dual-credit programs the report encourages the California Legislature to remove funding penalties, which reduce the per-pupil funding institutions receive for dually enrolled students. The recommendations also include standardizing the waiving of college fees for dual-enrollment students at the state level, instead of leaving the decision up to each institution.
Follow Alex Wukman on Twitter @AlexWukmanCMN