Expanding Dual Credit Opportunities Across the STEPS Collective

How do we help high school students transition into college? There are a myriad of strategies, but the STEPS Post-Secondary Work Group has been focusing on one particular: creating dual credit opportunities for more students.

Opportunities for academically advanced students like Advanced Placement courses and other approaches for racking up college credit while in high school have been around for a while.  However, there is a growing body of recent evidence that students who are not yet considering college can also benefit from dual credit opportunities.

Studies found that students in Florida and New York with access to dual credit enrollment demonstrated that lower-achieving students “benefitted to a greater extent than students with a higher grade point average.” And often times, middle achieving students do just as well in these college courses. A recent study completed in Utah demonstrated that, after recruiting middle-achieving students for a dual enrollment personal finance course, the final grades of these pre-determined middle-achieving and higher-achieving students did not differ significantly.   As a result of these and other studies, The Education Commission of the United States is advocating to “broaden dual enrollment access to middle-achieving students” and “provide pre-collegiate experiences to middle- and lower-achieving high school students.”

Tammi Oyadomari-Chun with the University of Hawai’i System recently presented some of the results of her state’s effort to increase dual credit opportunities to the Alaska Postsecondary Access and Completion Network. She found that national trends also held true locally.  One initiative, in particular, called the Early College High School Program, which brings college courses directly to high school campuses, has had a large impact on closing the college enrollment gap for economically disadvantaged high school graduates.

In 2015, this gap was 20% for students who did not enroll in dual credit courses, meaning 41% of economically disadvantaged students had enrolled in college compared with 61% of not economically disadvantaged students.  For students who enrolled in dual credit courses outside the Early College Program, the gap shrunk to 12% (72% and 84%) and it closed even further to 4% (82% and 86%) for Early College enrollees.  This data demonstrates that students who complete a course toward a degree are more likely to enroll in a post-secondary institution, and dual credit programs that are well-integrated with the rest of high schoolers’ daily experience have higher success rates than those that do not.

A dual credit course allows students to receive credit at both the high school and college level and can be structured in a number of ways.  In Juneau and Sitka, students can take classes at the UAS campuses and request credit from their high school on a case-by-case basis. There are also some classes offered at the high schools which are eligible for college credit, most notably Career and Technical Education (CTE) courses  (previously referred to as Tech Prep or VocTech.)  Some innovative new courses are also being planned by UAS in partnership with Goldbelt Heritage Foundation and Sealaska Heritage Institute. Additionally, in Hoonah and a number of other communities, students can take advantage of distance delivery options that mitigate barriers for rural students.

The STEPS Post-Secondary Work Group has been working to map what courses are currently available and identify gaps and opportunities. The group has identified a few promising approaches to delivery across the STEPS Collective.  One popular approach is to co-teach courses with both a high school teacher and a college professor working together to establish standards and develop a curriculum that functions for both the high school students and UAS’s requirements. This can be time and cost intensive but can result in better training and preparation for the teacher, professor, and students. Another promising approach relies on asynchronous courses (courses that don’t have a set meeting time.)  These courses can be offered online, like the dual credit Math and English courses in Hoonah. Or courses can be offered without a strong internet connection by loading course material on to a tablet as happens with the Fish Tech course. Regardless of how the material is delivered, students are more likely to succeed if they have a local teacher mentor or coach and are part of a cohort of students taking the same course.

Notes from past Post-Secondary Work Group meetings are available here. Tina Ryman with the University of Alaska Southeast is also currently working on materials to communicate current dual credit opportunities to school districts and students. You can reach Tina at cryman@nullalaska.edu. If you’d like to be involved with future conversations with the STEPS Post-Secondary Work Group please reach out to Emily at eferry@nullaasb.org.