Study: ‘Dual’ career tech helps underachievers

Career-focused dual enrollment programs helped disadvantanged and underachieving students in California graduate from high school and succeed in college, concludes a three-year Community College Research Center study funded by the Irvine Foundation. Compared to similar students in the control group, career-tech students who took college classes in high school were more likely to graduate from high school, more likely to enroll in a four-year rather than a two-year college, less likely to be placed in a remedial college course and more likely to persist in college and earn more credits.

Almost 3,000 California students participated in eight dual enrollment programs that paired their high schools with nearby community colleges. Sixty  percent were students of color, 40 percent came from non-English speaking homes and one third had parents with a high school education or less.

Earlier CCRC studies found career-technical dual enrollment is associated with improved college persistence, credit accumulation and grades. This study is one of the first to demonstrate that dual enrollment can work for students who might not otherwise enroll in college or succeed, if they do.

Among recommendations for policymakers, the researchers urged California to compensate both high schools and community colleges for dual students and waive college fees. In addition, the state should ensure that “dual” college credits are portable, so students don’t need to repeat coursework. Eligibility should not be limited to high achievers, the report recommends. “Following the standard of student eligibility for community colleges, the state should encourage broad access and prevent students from being disqualified by grades or test scores alone.”

Other recommendations:

• Continue to make dual enrollment available on both the high school and college campuses. Courses on the college campus provide a fuller and more authentic college experience; college opportunities must also be available at high school for students who lack transportation.
• Explore ways to ensure authenticity of the high school-based program format. Courses delivered at high school must have the same rigor and quality as college campus-based courses, and students must be held to the same standards of achievement as those in campus-based programs.
• Provide professional development to dual enrollment instructors. High school teachers may need greater assistance in creating a college-like atmosphere, and college instructors may need insights into scaffolding and other pedagogical strategies to support high school students.

California’s dual enrollment programs are struggling financially, evaluators noted. Because of funding cuts, some community colleges can’t provide seats in college courses for high school students.  Two of the career-tech programs studied were discontinued in 2011 due to lack of funding.