Skip to content

Improve Today, Invent Tomorrow

A Call to Reboot Dual Enrollment
Download the report

May 9, 2024

At A Glance

Dual enrollment and early college increase the number of high schoolers who succeed in college. Over the past two decades, they’ve grown from boutique opportunities to widespread college success strategies; research confirms effectiveness. This 20-year history charts innovations in dual enrollment leading to today’s urgent equity priority. What bold action now will remove implementation barriers and evolve new educational institutions to make the 2020s the equity decade?

Nancy Hoffman Senior Advisor
Practices & Centers Topics

Executive Summary

Education innovations—or any innovations for that matter—don’t catch and scale quickly. Many innovations don’t even stick. This report examines the history of two interrelated innovations—dual enrollment and early college. From an obscure start in the 2000s, both have persisted, scaled, and produced a body of positive impact research that has grown each decade. These two innovations have also garnered increasing investments of public funds. Today, both are go-to strategies for education reformers concerned with accelerating degree attainment, particularly for Black and Latine learners, and learners from low-income backgrounds. Because of this success, dual enrollment and early college are at a pivotal moment. As they are promoted as the best strategy available to further equity of outcomes, big questions emerge. Can dual enrollment and early college, as now designed and implemented, actually do the work they are being set up for? Or do they need a reboot if they are truly going to be the power tool the field needs to better serve all students who would benefit? The history of the last two decades of invention and reinvention suggests the latter.

JFF is undertaking a reassessment of early college and dual enrollment from multiple perspectives. The decision to begin with their history is born from the following observations: successful interactions between research, policy, and practice are all too rare. In this case, policymakers did take heed of research and called on state and local governing entities to embrace dual enrollment in practice. Over two decades, the purpose of dual enrollment and early college shifted from a privilege for the gifted to an entitlement for all. The progress—decade by decade—is instructive and leads to the conclusion that to fully realize equity, the field must refine and reboot dual enrollment and early college. JFF advocates taking on two major shifts simultaneously: First, remove practical barriers to implementation so programs can efficiently scale further, and second, invent new educational institutions and practices that better serve the needs of 16- to 22-year-olds.

Key Takeaways

  • It’s time to shift the mindset regarding the value of dual enrollment and early college programs. These programs must be designed as equitable pathways to postsecondary education and workforce success, particularly for students underserved by the current systems. This includes outreach efforts, alignment with career goals, early exploration and advising, wraparound supports, and high-quality instruction.
  • Despite the popularity and impact of dual enrollment, challenges, and inefficiencies in implementation persist. Practitioners are solving the same problems and addressing the same costly inefficiencies with each replication, as nothing works smoothly. Implementers struggle with funding streams, calendars, credit hours, Carnegie Units, course alignment, curriculum repetition, and student workplace experience. On the policy front, issues may include incentives, accountability, staffing, and other rules and regulations that, if not barriers, aren’t enablers, either.
  • There needs to be a radical reboot of existing approaches to dual enrollment and early college programs. They must embrace innovation, collaboration, and alignment with workforce needs. By reimagining current practices and adopting transformative solutions, stakeholders can create more inclusive pathways to postsecondary success, empowering all students to thrive in the evolving landscape of higher education and the workforce.