In 2019, the US Department of Education reported that one in every three American high school students participates in dual enrollment courses (Shivji & Wilson, 2019), a number expected to rise in the coming years. Texas is one such state where rapid expansion is underway. From 2000-2017, a sharp 753% increase of students enrolled in dual credit courses was observed, representing 10% of all students enrolled in Texas higher education (THECB, 2018).
Not only is dual credit growing rapidly, it’s playing a critical role in bridging the educational achievement gap by offering college coursework opportunities to high school students, many of whom lack access to such transformative academic programming.
Why dual credit matters
Dual credit (also known as dual enrollment or concurrent enrollment) helps high school students break down obstacles associated with self-doubt and low ambition by exposing them to the rigor and diversity of college-level coursework experiences. Dual credit programs also help students transition from high school to college more efficiently. According to the Community College Research Center (Fink et al. 2017), students who take dual credit courses frequently demonstrate improved college readiness and persistence. Dual credit programs overcome the barrier of under-preparedness and raise the likelihood of college persistence by fostering a proactive and self-assured mindset.
If you teach first- or second-year students, you may already be teaching dual credit students without knowing. That’s because dual credit models vary from one institution to the next. While many colleges and universities make use of an embedded instructor model—in which a qualified high school faculty member uses a rigorous college curriculum to teach students—other models send faculty to high schools or enroll dual credit students directly on-campus in non-dual credit courses. The latter model works well for institutions serving homeschooled students or small private institutions.
The ubiquity of dual credit can’t be overstated, nor can the need to carefully reevaluate our pedagogical approach to supporting dual credit students, who will earn transcripts bearing the names of our institutions. What’s crucial is understanding the similarities and the differences.
Dual credit is similar
Dual credit is designed to offer high school students a rigorous academic experience aligned with the curriculum and assessment standards of any regular, on-campus course. As the sole accrediting body for dual credit programs, the National Alliance of Concurrent Enrollment Partnerships (NACEP) works to ensure that dual credit courses “are as rigorous as courses offered on the sponsoring college campus” in terms of faculty qualification, assessment, curriculum, and student access to resources” (2022). At our institution, a student living on campus and enrolled in our first-year writing course would complete all of the same major assignments as a dual credit student studying down the road at the local high school, but others might get a student ID card, study in the library, or attend a basketball game for free—just like any other student.
Relatedly, dual credit student information is equally protected under federal law. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) prohibits the sharing of information with anyone other than the student, even if the student is a minor (US Department of Education, 2021). As we’ve seen on more than one occasion, a faculty member might spend an entire semester teaching a non-dual credit online course without realizing dual credit students were enrolled. Had the parent of a dual credit student not advocated on behalf of their student toward the end of the semester—occasionally asking for an assignment resubmission or extra credit—the faculty member may have never known. Some dual credit programs offer consent forms for students to sign, which give parents access to student performance and progress in a course. For this reason, it’s important to reach out to your dual credit office or program to seek clarification.
Dual credit is different
We believe that all college students are driven to be successful, but dual credit students are often exceptional in this regard. Though they may be in high school, dual credit students want to be challenged to think critically and they desire to prove their college readiness—to themselves, their classmates, and their instructors. This might be part of the reason why some dual credit don’t self-disclose their status. They’re extremely intelligent and curious to see if they can pass as on-level college students.
Bright as they may be, they are still 16-, 17-, and 18-year-old students, so they might not possess the same emotional maturity as traditional-age college students. Dual credit students may benefit from more one-to-one interactions with faculty, so inviting them to office hours to discuss why they didn’t earn the grade they hoped for could prove critical to their success. They might also feel challenged engaging with peers in group discussions or projects. Perhaps they take on too much responsibility or they feel intimidated when speaking up. As much as we strive to ensure their college experience feels authentic, they might need extra guidance in order to be successful.
On the other hand, we’ve heard countless times that courses of mostly dual credit students pose fewer classroom management issues when compared to their traditional college counterparts. We don’t want to predispose faculty to thinking dual credit students need to be treated differently. They may not. What’s most important is that we engage responsively with the individual needs of students in our classrooms.
Despite our best efforts to provide dual credit students with access to all college resources, there might be barriers that stand in their way. A common conundrum is access to library resources. Dual credit students are frequently given special access to library-purchased databases and services, but district technology may block their ability to access these resources while on their high school campuses. If a dual credit student brings this restriction to your attention, it’s important to work with the student to find a reasonable solution.
As a final consideration, the demographics of dual credit students often differ substantially from the demographics of traditional, non-dual credit students. Even though dual credit is growing rapidly, we are witnessing significant racial disparities in dual credit programs in most states. For example, Texas provides funding and waivers with the intention of increasing access for all students; however, schools with higher percentages of African-American students tend to have lower dual credit participation rates than their less diverse counterparts (Fink et al., 2023). Further research into racial disparities must be conducted in order for the dream of dual credit to be fully realized.
Dual credit is here to stay
The lines between high school and college have been blurring for years. Regardless of how you feel about such seismic shifts, dual credit isn’t going away. Whether you’re an embedded dual credit instructor at a high school or a professor teaching core courses, it’s imperative that dual credit students be treated the same as college students while also recognizing that they are inherently different. By recognizing that these students desire academic rigor, guidance, and understanding, we pave the way for an incoming generation of college students.
Jackie Hoermann-Elliott, PhD, is assistant professor of English and director of first-year composition at Texas Woman’s University, where she serves as a dual credit faculty liaison for the Office of Curriculum and Strategic Initiatives.
Tanisha Johnson, MUPP, is the director of Dual Enrollment Programs at Texas Woman’s University.
Jorge Figueroa, PhD, is the vice provost for Curriculum and Strategic Initiatives and professor of Bilingual and ESL Education at Texas Woman’s University.
Fink, John, Laurel Williamson, and Pam Anglin. (2023). “Leading Equitable Dual Credit… DEEP in the Heart of Texas.” Community College Resource Center. American Association of Community Colleges. https://ccrc.tc.columbia.edu/presentation/equitable-dual-credit-deep-texas.html
Fink, John, Davis Jenkins, and Takeshi Yanagiura. (2017). “What Happens to Students Who Take Community College ‘Dual Enrollment’ Courses in High School?” https://ccrc.tc.columbia.edu/dual-enrollment.html
NACEP. (2022). “NACEP Accreditation Guide: For Peer Reviewers and Applicants.” National Alliance for Concurrent Enrollment Partnerships: https://www.nacep.org/docs/accreditation/Website/CEP-Accreditation%20Guide-SINGLE-PAGE-11.2022.pdf
Shiva, Azim, and Sandra Wilson. (2019). “Dual Enrollment: Participation and Characteristics.” U.S. Department of Education, Washington, D.C. National Center for Education Statistics.
Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. (2018). “Overview: Dual Credit.” 60x30TX: Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board: https://reportcenter.highered.texas.gov/agency-publication/miscellaneous/dual-credit/#:~:text=The%20number%20of%20students%20participating,participation%20has%20increased%2057%20percent
U.S. Department of Education. (2021). “Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).” U.S. Department of Education: https://www2.ed.gov/policy/gen/guid/fpco/ferpa/index.html