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Dual Enrollment Students More Likely to Succeed in College

Joel Vargas and I recently finished a research study where we found that Texas high school students who take college courses through dual enrollment are a lot more likely to attend college and receive a college degree. There are a few other studies of dual enrollment from other states that support what we found, but our study is different and exciting in a number of ways.

For one, we had the luxury of tracking high school students all the way to the point of graduating college. A lot of educational programs focus on shorter-term outcomes like college enrollment. College graduation has been relatively overlooked because it is difficult to track, but it’s one of the most important outcomes for students. I’ve seen a lot of schools and programs that boast outcomes in the short term, but students are still falling off once they get to college. The students who participated in dual enrollment seem to be different—they are graduating from college and earning degrees at much higher rates than other students.

One question you might have is: “Who are these students?” It wouldn’t be a very interesting finding if we found a group of high-performing students who participated in dual enrollment and compared them to students who didn’t do as well in school. That’s not the case with our study, though—we were really able to compare “apples to apples” using a sophisticated statistical matching technique. We looked at many variables such as race, income, test scores, and even classes taken early in high school. For each student who participated in dual enrollment we were able to find another student who was very similar except that they hadn’t participated. And again—comparing like students—those who participated in dual enrollment graduated from college at much higher rates.

Another thing about this data is that it comes from Texas, which has a really large and diverse dual enrollment program (and is becoming even more so). We were able to study about 4,000 Hispanic students, 1,000 African-American students, and about 3,000 low-income students who had participated in dual enrollment. These are all groups often underrepresented in college, and all of these groups showed strong results when participating dual enrollment. In most cases we found that underrepresented groups were getting as much benefit from dual enrollment as white or higher-income students. When we looked at enrollment in four-year colleges we found evidence that participating in dual enrollment might help low-income students even more. That’s a really promising result in a field looking to expand opportunities for low-income students.

Wanting to learn about the effect of state policies on dual enrollment, the Texas Education Agency and the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board granted access to the data so that we could do this study. Because of data security protocols, the Texas Education Research Center at UT Austin was directly onsite doing the analysis under our direction, and we owe a lot to the hard work of Matt Giani and Celeste Alexander who worked with the data there. Since our study population started college, Texas has seen a dramatic expansion of its dual enrollment program because of conscious policy efforts, including policies to support early college high schools that integrate college into high school and support low-income students to get a head start on college.

There are now over 90,000 students in Texas who participate in dual enrollment. Four or five years from now we hope to find out if the results are still as strong once access to students has been dramatically expanded.