Dual credit programs are academic programs where students complete courses in high school and receive college credit. They have been part of the educational landscape in the United States for more than 60 years. In the early days, programs opening access to college courses were aimed primarily at high-achieving high school students, but today there is increasing recognition of the value and benefits of expanding access to such courses and programs to a wider group of students. Interest in dual credit programs has mushroomed ever since Since President Obama’s 2009 call to dramatically improve rates of US student college retention, academic progress, and degree completion.

Today dual credit programs include a variety of curricular offerings, in a range of forms and modes of instructional delivery. Courses can be offered at the high school campus, the college campus, a community center, or online. Dual credit courses can be taught by a high school instructor, a college instructor, or both. However, since they are programs where high school students receive college credit they need to conform with policies and procedures for high schools and colleges. Given the various dimensions of dual credit program operations, including student eligibility, faculty eligibility, funding, course delivery partnerships, and transfer articulation, dual credit programs can be complex and, at times, highly emotional undertakings.

Hobsons recently completed a research project with our partner at AASA, The School Superintendents Association, to explore how superintendents are using dual credit programs in their school districts. We hoped to find places where dual credit programs are currently driving value for both districts and their students, so that efforts can focus on places where programs are driving real results.

Here is a high-level snapshot of what we’ve learned:

Dual credit programs are ubiquitous: 95 percent of survey respondents said their districts offered dual credit programs; of the 14 respondents not currently offering dual credit, 11 planned to offer them during the upcoming academic year. Such programs are found in large, medium, and small districts, in rural and urban schools. They are offered face-to-face and at a distance.

They benefit students and families: The most obvious benefits of dual credit programs, especially in small, rural districts, are that they expand the number of courses available to high school students. Dual credit courses also give students the opportunity to complete college credits tuition-free while still in high school, resulting in significant cost savings and increasing low-income students’ chances of completing college less burdened by debt. They can accelerate college program completion, giving students who complete dual credit courses a headstart, with credits already “in the bank” before they show up on campus.

One of the pervasive, “felt” benefits of dual credit programs is that they help support students’ aspirational development. Parents, teachers, counselors, and academic leaders in districts and institutions report that students are inspired and motivated when they see that they are able to complete college-level work. This was especially notable in districts serving lower socioeconomic students, first-generation students, and students looking for challenging academic experiences more aligned with their personal interests.

They strengthen collaboration: At the heart of dual credit program success is the need for collaborative partnerships. High schools must work with partners at community colleges, regional colleges, or universities that are accredited for granting college credit. This means that high school teachers who are teaching what are effectively college courses must possess the same academic preparation as college teachers. Early results from our survey have already given us opportunities for  reaching out to K-12 and higher education stakeholders to identify points where we can cut through barriers and open new conversations.

To learn more about our dual credit research, download the full report.


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