Aligning State Policies, Federal Law, and the Needs of Today’s Student Through a National Dual Enrollment Strategy

December 17, 2023

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Title: The Next Phase of Dual Enrollment Policy: A Vision for the Field

Author: Alex Perry

Source: The College in High School Alliance and Foresight Law + Policy

The last two decades of significant growth in the number of high school students taking college courses have resulted in a new phase for dual enrollment policy. As of 2023, practitioners across the country have developed promising models for success, as exemplified by increasing enrollments at community colleges. In 2021, over 42 percent of all high school graduates in Colorado and nearly 41 percent of all high school graduates in Kentucky participated in dual credit courses. As enrollment in two-year institutions and career and technical education programs continues to grow, federal definitions, state policies, and institutional practices may need to change to reflect dual enrollment as an integrated opportunity for all students rather than a promising intervention available to few.

Recommendations from a new report by the College in High School Alliance (CHSA) for advancing dual enrollment policy at the state and federal levels are summarized below:

State level:

Setting a statewide vision for dual enrollment: Defining a clear vision for each state’s education system can demonstrate the power of dual enrollment as a strategy to expand the overall college-going population rather than to rearrange the educational experiences of existing college-pursuing students. State policymakers should not only think about dual enrollment as an option by itself but also consider the role that it can play in combination with other education strategies. Dual enrollment is a best practice within career pathways, competency-based learning, and youth apprenticeship programs, among others.

Doubling down on the equity mission: While working to close equity gaps for populations of students that have traditionally been included in state dual enrollment reporting, such as male, Black, Hispanic, and low-income students, it is important to expand the equity mission to include populations of students who might not typically be included in data collection. The report recommends the higher education policy community to think expansively and explore what interventions and policies will best help students living in rural areas, students with disabilities, English learners, and homeless and foster youth.

Focusing policy on intentional dual enrollment experiences: States are positioned to incentivize or require students to participate in dual enrollment course experiences that are part of a specific pathway or program of study. These include the potential development of model programs of study or limiting state funding for dual credits to courses that have been identified as highly transferable or components of certain pathways leading to degree attainment.

National level:

Setting a national vision for dual enrollment by raising expectations for policy support: The report highlights the need for a national vision, which can be communicated through a new federal definition of dual enrollment, that signals to practitioners which program practices align with a national strategy and are worthy of funding and policy support.

Aligning the field on key terms in policy: Dual enrollment policymakers at the national and state levels need to begin to align, starting with terminology and definitions used in policy to make it easier for students, parents, and other stakeholders to get the information they need. This can begin with adjusting state policy language to match a new national definition, one that distinguishes between the terms “dual enrollment,” “dual credit,” “concurrent enrollment,” and “early college high school.”

Examining new and emerging policy trends: Finally, the dual enrollment field needs to more deeply examine new and emerging policy trends that may support or hamper progress toward a new strategic national framework. Future federal policy changes may include addressing the growth of online dual enrollment and the rise of out-of-state degree providers, as well as expanding federal funding avenues beyond The Every Student Succeeds Act.

To read the full report by CHSA, click here. To read more about the ongoing work by the College in High School Alliance and its other policy reports and legislative proposals, click here.

—Austin Freeman

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