Despite the universal support for and rapid growth of dual credit programs, very little research has been done to show the actual impact on outcomes for students entering four-year colleges with dual credit – until now.
The University of Texas System today released a study on dual credit that is among the most comprehensive in the nation. The study sheds light on how dual credit programs affect graduation rates and student debt as well as the pros and cons of dual credit from both student and faculty perspectives. The study also looks at the consequences of the exponential enrollment growth in dual credit programs, among other factors.
Dual credit programs allow high school students to enroll in college courses and receive simultaneous academic course credit for both college and high school. According to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, more than 151,000 Texas high school students took dual credit courses in 2017 compared to 42,000 in 2000 – an increase of 753 percent.
For its study, the UT System looked at the outcomes of approximately 135,000 students who entered a UT academic institution between 2010 and 2015 and tracked the students for six years.
“UT System academic institutions are experiencing a tsunami of incoming college credit produced by dual credit programs within Texas, and it’s more important than ever that we have empirical data to show the effect dual credit is having on students’ college experiences,” said David Troutman, Ph.D., associate vice chancellor and study lead at the UT System’s Office of Strategic Initiatives. “The good news is, the data show dual credit programs are having a significant and positive impact on student retention and student performance – even more so than we realized.”
For example, students who successfully complete just one dual credit class in high school are more likely to stay in college and graduate, compared to students who didn’t take dual credit, Troutman said.
Findings of the study include:
Dual credit students are two times more likely than students entering college with no dual credit to graduate in four years.
Among students who graduate in four years, dual credit students, on average, graduate one semester earlier compared to students with no prior college credit.
Students reported that dual credit provides early exposure to college that benefited them when taking college courses after graduating from high school.
Dual credit does not significantly reduce student loan debt when taking into account students’ financial aid, unless students enter with at least 60 or more semester credit hours.
The full report is posted on the UT System website and includes additional findings, as well as a detailed explanation of the methodology.
What makes the UT System dual credit study so comprehensive, Troutman said, is it provides not only quantitative data to answer questions about whether or not dual credit affects student success, but also qualitative data obtained through surveys and focus groups with students, faculty, academic advisors, and enrollment managers about how and why dual credit impacts student success.
The feedback gathered reflects diverse experiences with dual credit that are beneficial but not without challenges. Some of these challenges include differences in how dual credit programs are offered across the state, the availability and cost of the programs, and how well the courses transfer to meet degree or certification requirements. One drawback to the programs, for example, is the lack of centralized guidelines and rules that would offer students a more consistent experience across the state.
As part of the study, the UT System makes several recommendations to provide concrete information to students and families considering dual credit, as well as to administrators and faculty members who shape dual credit programs.
Jennifer Zinth, who leads dual enrollment initiatives at the Education Commission of the States, noted that as the number of students in dual credit programs nationally continues to grow, it is becoming increasingly important to make sure that the investment of time and resources by all players – from students to states, and everyone in between – is a sound one.
“This report is an extremely valuable addition to the growing body of dual credit research, in that it not only confirms the student benefits of dual credit participation in a large and diverse state such as Texas, but also identifies recommendations for program enhancement that other states can learn from,” Zinth said.
The study is one of many efforts the UT System has spearheaded to examine the impact of dual credit on student success. The UT System and the Texas Association of Community Colleges convened a task force that last month issued recommendations on how Texas can address dual credit opportunities and challenges. And, UT System will convene a national forum Oct. 5-6 to discuss the expansion of dual credit and key policy areas.