What the Facts Say About Dual Enrollment’s Impact

Savvas Insights Team

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Every high school educator wants to see their students thrive in school and beyond.

Yet only two in 10 high school students believe they are career ready, according to a 2021 survey conducted by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation.1 And in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, college enrollment is decreasing2 while the need for postsecondary education is increasing. According to the U.S. Department of Education, 70 percent of jobs will soon require education or training beyond high school.3

But there’s good news. Dual enrollment is an evidence-based strategy proven to boost student outcomes in high school and college. Dual enrollment programs allow high school students to take college courses and earn both high school and college credit at the same time.

Let’s explore what the research says about the impact of dual enrollment, and hear from educators about their experiences.

Increase College Readiness

When students are able to experience real college courses in high school, they’re better prepared to tackle the challenges of college, say educators. Dual enrollment courses help students build the independent learning skills they need for success, like time management, perseverance, and resilience.

That’s why many superintendents and high school leaders, such as Jack Wallace, high school principal of St. Augustine Preparatory Academy in Milwaukee, seek dual-enrollment opportunities for their students.

“Dual enrollment gives students a good taste of the independence of college and the rigor they can expect when they get there,” Wallace explained, noting that he has seen the positive effect this experience has had on his students. “It actually got them more excited for college because they have an understanding of what it is in a much more authentic way.”

Kelly Ann Witkowski, principal of Williamsburg Preparatory School in Brooklyn, N.Y., has also witnessed these benefits first hand. “Since we started incorporating dual enrollment in our school, we’ve seen a remarkable change in our students,” she said. “Many who were hesitant about attending college feel more prepared now. They understand what the college experience will be like.”

Build Student Confidence

While college is an exciting prospect for many students, it also raises imposter syndrome and fear of failure. But when students experience college success in high school, they build their motivation and confidence.

“There is a difference between I think I can and I know I can. That is what dual enrollment is doing for students,” explained Thalia Smith, audit and assurance partner at Deloitte & Touche.

As a sponsor of Deloitte's Making Accounting Diverse and Equitable Commitment, Smith collaborates with high schools and colleges to break down barriers that impede racially and ethnically diverse youth from pursuing careers in accounting. In Smith’s experience, dual enrollment helps students believe, “I now know I can be successful in college because I’ve done this already in high school.”

Dr. Sarah Cherry Rice, executive director of the nonprofit Digital Ready, also values the confidence-building power of dual enrollment, which she believes is a pathway to economic opportunities for underserved high school students.

“When you earn college credits in high school, it really builds that self-efficacy, that confidence that I belong in college,” said Rice, whose Boston-based organization seeks to empower high school students, especially underrepresented young people, to build their own pathways to economic mobility and success in Boston’s innovation economy.

That sense of belonging is especially important for first-generation students, who often report feeling out of place at college, according to a study published in the Journal of College Counseling.4 For Principal Witkowski, this has been another benefit of dual enrollment at her high school.

“For most of my students, college is really scary because they don’t have anybody in their family to ask about it,” Witkowski said. “But the transition from dual enrollment into college is going to be so much easier for them because they don’t have that fear anymore.”

Improve Student Outcomes

Equipped with the confidence and essential skills for college, dual enrollment students experience greater success.

According to the Community College Research Center (CCRC) at Columbia University,5 students who participate in dual enrollment courses are more likely to:

  • graduate high school
  • enroll in a 4-year college
  • complete a college degree

A systematic review of dual enrollment research6 also found that dual-enrolled students are more likely to:

  • earn a higher GPA
  • persist early in college
  • graduate college faster

Improve Student Access and Equity

Evidence from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that a college education pays off with a lifetime of higher earnings and lower unemployment.7 But one of the biggest barriers to college is cost. On average, college tuition increases about 8 percent per year, according to finaid.org.8

In Dr. Rice’s view, “One of the best ways to increase college enrollment is to allow students to try on college at no cost, at no risk.” That’s exactly what dual enrollment does. It gives students a head start—saving them time and money on their degree by earning transferable college credits at no cost to them.

With less financial burden, college becomes more accessible and equitable. The CCRC has found that dual enrollment increases college application and graduation rates for students who are underrepresented in higher education.5

Adding relevance and career training to dual enrollment programs further increases equity, according to the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. Particularly among at-risk and low-income students9, career and technical education (CTE) has been shown to:

  • reduce dropout rates
  • increase high school graduation rates
  • improve employment, earnings, and career choices

A recent working paper from the Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University10 concludes that the combination of CTE and dual enrollment is linked to:

  • higher high school graduation rates
  • more college credits earned in high school
  • increased college enrollment within one year after high school

With a future career in sight, students become more engaged with what they’re learning. They can envision their path through college to future employment. Says Moses Ojeda, principal of Thomas A. Edison CTE High School
in Queens: “If a student sees that what they’re learning is relevant to what they want to do in the future, that’s the buy-in.”

Learn More about Outlier Dual Enrollment