California students who took courses in community college while still in high school were more likely than their classmates to graduate and attend a four-year college, even among students who are historically underrepresented in higher education, according to a new report.

The Community College Research Center (CCRC) at Columbia University’s Teachers College studied a three-year dual enrollment program developed for low-income students, English learners, students who are struggling academically, and those at high risk of dropping out of college. They found that the students stayed in college and earned more

Dual enrollment participation at 8 pilot sites. Source: CCRC. (click to enlarge)

credits than similar students in their district who didn’t participate in the program.

In the report, CCRC researchers wrote that the study “is one of the first to demonstrate that dual enrollment is a promising intervention for students who might otherwise not enroll in college.”

Katherine Hughes, assistant director of CCRC and one of the researchers on the project, told EdSource Today that some students said they came from families that not only didn’t encourage  them to attend college, but weren’t even supportive of their graduating from high school.

“To be able to offer them these opportunities to gain college credits for free, to have a college experience and think to themselves that they can do college, that they’re college students, is just very transformative,” said Hughes.

The James Irvine Foundation* funded the program, known as the Concurrent Courses initiative, at eight community colleges and local school districts around the state, at a cost of $4.75 million. It ran from 2008 to 2011 and involved nearly 3,000 high school students. About 60 percent of them were students of color, 40 percent came from non-English-speaking homes, and a third had parents who never attended college.

For the study, researchers developed a custom file using longitudinal data in the California Partnership for Achieving Student Success, or Cal-PASS, a voluntary data system in California that tracks students from elementary school through college.  Every community college in the state participates as do about 8,400 school districts.

Cal-PASS allowed researchers to match students in the program with their classmates for similar academic, language and socio-economic backgrounds.  They found statistically significant differences in high school graduation rates and, when the participating students went to college full time, they earned 20 percent more credits than their high school classmates.  Researchers were a bit surprised, however, to find no significant differences in high school grades. One reason, surmised Hughes, could be the study’s duration. “They’ve only been in this for a year or two, so to think it might have some big influence on the GPA is probably not very likely.”

Source: CCRC. (Click to enlarge).

Dual enrollment gave a significant boost to college-going rates.  Sixty-two percent of the first group of high school grads in the study went to college, compared with 48 percent of their classmates.  But the next year, in 2010, the numbers dropped for both groups with 51 percent of participants and 44 percent of other high school grads enrolling in college.  The study’s authors suggested that California’s economy was partly to blame.  California Community Colleges have taken an $809 million budget hit since 2008, forcing schools to layoff teachers and eliminate classes, and cutting off access to some 300,000 students.

Dual enrollment is hardly a new trend. California and other states have allowed high school students to earn college credit for years through early and middle college programs.  According to the Education Commission of the States, 46 states have policies providing for dual enrollment and twelve states require public high schools and community colleges to offer it.  The most recent figures available on how many high school students took community college courses is from 2002-03, which put the number at over 800,000 nationwide.

Since the Concurrent Courses initiative targeted students who are typically less likely to attend college, it required the participating schools to include college and career readiness as part of the dual enrollment curriculum. Santa Barbara City College partnered with Carpinteria High School District and the South Coast Regional Occupation Program to create Career Choices, a community college program for all ninth graders in the district. The semester-long program, taught at the high schools, is part of the college’s Get Focused … Stay Focused! initiative.

The program is designed to get students to think about what they want to study in college, said Diane Hollems, Dean of Educational Programs at Santa Barbara City College. Students conduct research on three careers that interest them and create an online, 10-year career and education plan. While preparing that, the high school freshmen learn how to use  government data sites, do financial planning, and conduct internet research.

“The goal for us at the community college is that students arrive at our door with an informed, declared major, stay on that path, and get through the program in two years,” explained Hollems.

Next year they’re adding followup courses for students in tenth and eleventh grades that will be tied into the new Common Core state standards.

Santa Barbara City College also runs about 100 additional courses each semester at local high schools, including college English, algebra, calculus, foreign languages, political science, and environmental horticulture.

The school is fortunate in that it had a partnership with the local school districts before taking part in the Irvine Foundation pilot, and college leaders are committed to maintaining the program. It also has funding from SB 70, the 2005 bill that allocated $20 million for improving career technical education at the community college and high school levels.

Dual enrollment participation at 8 pilot sites. Source: CCRC. (click to enlarge)

Two of the eight colleges in the project weren’t so lucky. Los Angeles City College and the North Orange County Regional Occupation Program, which partnered with Anaheim Union High School District and Cypress and Fullerton Colleges, were unable to secure funding to keep going and had to shut down when the Irvine funding ran out.

The North Orange County program in particular had great success in reaching a population that had very little other support, said CCRC’s Hughes. Student participation jumped by 93 percent just between the first and second years of the program, in large part because the classes were held on the high school campuses.

“Students, like those I was mentioning earlier, said to me that their parents would never let them go over to the college campus after school to take a class,” said Hughes. “The only way they could do it is if it were right there on their high school campus.”

The CCRC report includes policy recommendations for California to provide greater access to dual enrollment for underrepresented high school students. At the top of the list is making it more affordable.

“California allows the colleges to waive tuition for the students,” said Hughes, but “other states require that tuition is waived.“ In exchange, those states have more control over the types of courses offered to ensure that they lead to career and college opportunities. “There are all kinds of different ways this is done in other states and I would really recommend that California policymakers take a close look.”

* The James Irvine Foundation provides general operating support for EdSource.

Kathryn Baron is Sr. Reporter at EdSource TodayContact Kathryn Baron.

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Kathryn Baron covered education reforms in California for EdSource until 2015


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