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Using Dual Enrollment Policy to Improve College & Career Readiness: A Web Tool for Decision Makers

Diane S. Ward and Joel Vargas

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Nationally, states urgently need to dramatically increase the number of young people who are pursuing postsecondary education credentials or degrees upon graduation from high school. This aspiration is critical for all of our nation’s youth, especially students who are economically disadvantaged, first-time college goers, and racial and ethnic minorities. Unfortunately, these subgroups are often cited as those left academically behind their peers by the time they enter ninth grade, and if they do graduate from high school, they do so without the knowledge or skills to enter postsecondary education college- and career-ready.

Taking into account the nation’s troubled economic environment and today’s competitive marketplace, state policymakers and education leaders need to invest in strategies that help build bridges for students to make the transition from high school to college. Early college pathways, which provide students with an opportunity to earn college credits before leaving high school, are a proven promising approach for raising college readiness and creating greater alignment between secondary and postsecondary education. Unfortunately, these opportunities are not equitably distributed across all communities and school districts, and low-income students and youth underrepresented in higher education are participating the least in college courses as high school students.

To maximize the impact of accelerated learning opportunities, state leaders must promote dual enrollment policies that support early college pathways to serve a broader population of high school students and ensure that all students—particularly low-income and minority youth and first-time college goers—receive a head start on college in high school.

Accompanying Policy Brief

As demand for a highly educated and skilled workforce grows, many governors have made student college and career readiness a priority in 2012. In their State of the State addresses, governors in Mississippi, Missouri, Virginia, and Wisconsin promoted the expansion of dual enrollment programs as a key strategy for strengthening academic preparedness. Dual enrollment provides high school students with opportunities to take college courses while completing their high school program, giving them an experience of college-level work, a better understanding of what it takes to succeed in that academic environment, and a head start on earning college credits.

This brief looks at some of the dual enrollment approaches that states are advancing this year. Because governors’ addresses are blueprints for action in the new year, the fate of many of these proposals will be revealed in the months to come. Also, some initiatives are relatively developed, while others are new or general, which makes it difficult to assess their potential impact. Nevertheless, one pattern that seems to have emerged this year is a growing interest by states in the creation of pathways that include dual enrollment for high school students enrolled in career and technical programs as a workforce readiness strategy.