News & Commentary, Publications & Research

New Research: Dual Enrollment Supports Equitable College Completion

College Futures Foundation has long championed dual enrollment as an important strategy for closing critical equity gaps. Getting a postsecondary credential remains key to unlocking lifelong opportunities, yet disparities are stubbornly entrenched in terms of who actually has access to college and who has the luxury to focus on studies in order to earn a degree in a reasonable amount of time. Here’s where dual enrollment comes in: This opportunity to enroll in college courses and earn college credit while still in high school gives students immediate access to higher education and propels them toward the goal of degree completion. Just think of the potential here. When dual enrollment is designed for high school students who have been historically excluded from opportunity, and linked to effective community college completion strategies, this programming can bring cross-sector equity goals within reach.

Today we spotlight compelling new evidence from two separate research teams that indicates the promise of dual enrollment as an equity strategy. Participation in dual enrollment among California high school students has risen in recent years, as have the number of high school and college partnerships providing this opportunity, and the number of community college courses offered in this way. Findings from the new studies suggest that structured dual enrollment programs, in particular, may play an important role in decreasing equity gaps and increasing access to higher education for students historically underserved on their paths to and through college. When students, on their own, take classes at community college during their high school years, this informal type of dual enrollment is often called concurrent enrollment. In contrast, structured dual enrollment involves programs that are collaboratively designed by K–12 schools and community colleges and formalized by agreements between participating institutions. These programs include College and Career Access Pathways (CCAP), Early and Middle College High School programs, and others often referred to as non-CCAP.

Dr. Naomi Castro, Senior Director, Career Ladders Project explains this distinction further: “When done well, structured dual enrollment is designed as a pathway where the courses advance the student toward a certificate or degree. Well-designed programs utilize an asset-based approach where high expectations are paired with high supports, and supports are embedded. Courses can be offered during the high school day, so students don’t have to choose between college and other obligations like sports, a job, or family responsibilities.”

It’s important to recognize that the strides for dual enrollment and educational equity captured in this research might not be possible without the passage of Assembly Bills 288 and 30, in 2016 and 2019 respectively, which authorized formal partnerships between our state’s community colleges and K–12 schools to bring the opportunity of dual enrollment to more students underrepresented in higher education. A supportive policy environment and aligned institutions are, as ever, critical to our state’s most ambitious goals.

State education leaders are understandably enthusiastic about this approach and the new evidence that backs it. Aisha Lowe, Vice Chancellor for Educational Services and Support at the California Community College Chancellor’s Office called dual enrollment “a powerful lever for closing equity gaps, extending pathways, and accelerating the completion of degrees and credentials.”

Shared findings

The two new research reports involved different methods and data elements but generated similar findings on the promise of dual enrollment:

  • Structured/formal dual enrollment is on the rise
  • High school students represent an increasing share of community college enrollment
  • Dual enrollment equity gaps by racial/ethnic subgroups are smaller in these formal dual enrollment programs, and have narrowed over time
  • Access to dual enrollment overall remains unequal, and it depends on the high school that students attend
  • Reducing inequities in dual enrollment requires continued partnership between high schools and community colleges to create these formal dual enrollment opportunities
  • The partnerships must center recruitment efforts and course offerings in equity

These findings show promise—both in the potential to expand dual enrollment for equitable completion, and to explore further ways that policy can remove barriers for students underrepresented in higher education. Indeed, Yvonne Muñoz, Higher Ed Senior Policy Analyst at Education Trust–West sees dual enrollment as “an avenue for both high schools and colleges to more closely partner with one another and support students through those transition points.”

Clearly, we have more work to do, but the opportunity and possibilities this research reveals are energizing. College Futures Foundation looks forward to continuing to learn from our research partners, advocates, and students, and from educators in the field who are implementing dual enrollment with a focus on equitable access and BA completion.

Download the studies today

Dual Enrollment in California: Promoting Equitable Student Access and Success, by Public Policy Institute of California, which examined community college data.

A Foot in the Door: Growth in Participation and Equity in Dual Enrollment in California, by Wheelhouse: The Center for Community College Leadership and Research at U.C. Davis, which examined California Department of Education and California Community College Chancellor’s Office data.

On October 26, we led an online dialogue with the researchers leading these new studies, dual enrollment practitioners, and state education leaders. A recording of this session is available to stream now.

Additional resources

This is an important time for our students and our state. We share these resources from our partners and hope you will join us in next steps toward greater, more equitable college completion.