Wednesday, April 17, 2013

State Policy and College-Level Courses in High School

In the past couple decades, the number of high school students participating in college-level courses has increased drastically. A new NCES study estimates this number to be 2.0 million students in 2010-2011, an increase from 1.2 million students in 2003-2004 (an increase of 66.6%). The same study estimates that 82% of high schools have students participating in college-level courses, often referred to as dual credit, dual enrollment, or concurrent enrollment (I use the term dual credit for consistency).

The proliferation of dual credit translates into more students participating in college and earning college credits before they graduate high school. As dual credit offerings have expanded, questions have been raised related to dual credit quality, the extent to which a larger pool of students is adequately prepared for college courses in high school, and the extent to which dual credit courses are of college rigor. In many instances, high school faculty members, who often serve as adjunct college faculty, teach dual credit courses on high school campuses. There is a lot to unpack with dual credit, but I want to focus on the relationship between dual credit and state policy.

With colleagues from Indiana University and Lake Land College, I just completed a review of dual credit state policies commissioned by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC). Our purpose was to examine state policies in all 50 states and better understand the relationship between state policy and quality. The report, which is publically available on the HLC website, is being digested and considered by the HLC for future action.

One issue surfaced by our study is the tension between ‘quality’ and ‘access,’ both of which state policies address in various ways across states. Although the purpose of our study was not to examine this tension, our descriptive results lend themselves well to future analysis of this tension. For example, we found that nine states have state policies that either require or encourage dual credit programs to adhere to the quality standards of the voluntary accreditation organization, the National Association for Concurrent Enrollment Partnerships (NACEP). Several other states have quality-related policies such as Illinois (Illinois’ policy is the “Dual Credit Quality Act”) or Indiana and Tennessee (Chapter 15, Section 49-15-101), whose policies have many state-level provisions focused on quality standards. So there is very clearly a sector of state policies whose purpose is focused on quality.

At the other end of the spectrum are policies that emphasize access to college courses in high schools. We found that the preponderance of state policies had established policies about which students are eligible to participate in dual credit. These policies often restricted access based on limiting dual credit participation to students in certain grade levels, students with adequate standardized test scores, or students with appropriate course-prerequisites. However, nearly half of the state policies have eligibility waivers (e.g., Kentucky and Missouri) where student certain eligibility requirements can be waived for students as determined by the college faculty or Chief Academic Officer, for example. In some states where students are required to pay tuition, however, state policies provide financial assistance to low-income students (e.g., Connecticut and Indiana). So state policies appear to have different approaches to dual credit access, restricting access for some students based on academic ability and ability to pay, while also providing flexibility in some cases.

The is accumulating evidence about the impact of dual credit (for example, see here, here, and here), suggesting that dual credit participation is related to desirable outcomes such as college enrollment, college persistence, and to a lesser extent, college completion. One missing strand of research, however, is the extent to which state policies related to quality and access influence both which students participate and the outcomes of these students. Although we have observed state dual credit policies expand in the last decade (compared to a 2005 study), including an increased emphasis on promoting quality, there is little evidence about the extent to which specific state policies contribute to student success, increase college access, or even improve student learning. It is this area that is desperately needed for future research to inform our public policies so they work in the best interest of students. 

No comments: