Dual Enrollment in Science: Paving the Way for College STEM Degrees
To address the representation gap in the sciences, a partnership of institutions implemented two different early college/dual enrollment courses for high school students as part of a larger project. One program was a concurrent (in-school) enrollment program, and the other was a summer residential program. Each program ran for five years, and all of them successfully prepared students for college STEM. Many students entered STEM programs in college, and 80 percent of them are still there today.
The Larger Project
The Minority Student Pipeline Math and Science Partnership—(MSP)2—was a joint project that brought together several colleges and a large school district in suburban Maryland (May, 2016). The project targeted both teachers and students in one of the nation's largest counties where the majority of people are minorities, in order to strengthen the pipeline of underrepresented groups into degree programs and careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation’s MSP program, our partnership designed and implemented a multifaceted effort that included professional development for teachers in fourth grade through high school, challenging college-level science coursework for high-school students, and teaching opportunities for undergraduate students.
Throughout each part of the project, college faculty worked together with teachers and other school staff to deliver programs focused on different stages of the pipeline, from elementary school through college. The principle that guided every facet of the project was student engagement. For teacher participants, this took the form of professional development around student-centered, inquiry-based instructional strategies. For students, we created new opportunities to engage in science that they might not have otherwise had.
Ultimately, the (MSP)2 project helped to increase student achievement in science, stop the decline of student interest in science through the elementary years, and prepare high school students for college STEM courses and majors.
Minorities in STEM
Minorities are underrepresented in STEM disciplines at every level from secondary science and mathematics courses through graduate school (Carnevale & Smith, 2012). Lack of preparation in mathematics and science among underrepresented minority groups in the early elementary grades undermines enrollment and success in secondary school programs and, ultimately, in college and career choices later in life (Clark, 1999). Prince George’s County is one of the largest majority-minority school systems in the nation, with 132,000 students enrolled in grades K-12 (76 percent African American, 15 percent Hispanic). If ever this nation seriously hopes to address the opportunities and the challenges of fostering a robust pipeline for bringing underrepresented minority students into STEM professions and fields of study, Prince George’s County offers a worthy case study for such an effort. Indeed, the project successfully impacted these students’ interest, achievement, and persistence in science.
Below, we describe our two dual enrollment programs in more detail and the lasting impacts they had on students, schools, and colleges.
Background: Dual Enrollment in Science
Underrepresented minority students often benefit from early exposure to college-credit courses while still in high school (Hoffman, 2005). Taking these dual-enrollment courses increases a student’s likelihood of earning a high school diploma, enrolling in a four-year institution, persisting to a second semester and second year in college, and achieving a higher grade point average in college than non-dual enrollment students (Karp, Calcagno, Hughes, Jeong, & Bailey, 2007). In addition, programs designed to bridge the transition from high school or community college into colleges or universities are particularly helpful for bringing first-generation and minority students to college (Kee, 2007). However, the question of whether or not the benefits of dual enrollment for minority students include increased persistence specifically in science fields has been largely unexplored.
Two Dual Enrollment Programs
The project included a program to bring these benefits to the students of Prince George’s County, specifically in science. Prince George’s Community College (PGCC) and Bowie State University (BSU) collaborated with the county’s single public school system to develop multiple early college/dual enrollment science courses for nearly 400 high school students. Two types of programs were implemented.
- Summer residential program: On the BSU campus, high school students enrolled for three consecutive summers during their high school careers. Students took supplemental courses and tutoring in mathematics and college skills along with credit-bearing courses in biology and chemistry. In total, 74 students completed the program.
- Concurrent enrollment program: Science faculty from PGCC came to area high schools and taught credit-bearing science courses during the regular school year, including Environmental Biology and Forensic Biology. A teacher of record from the high school assisted in each class and took over for the faculty member during college holidays. Students were given advising assistance from a faculty member, who discussed their application materials with them (including the results of the ACCUPLACER tests). A total of 307 students participated.
In each program, students were officially admitted to the respective college, received college credit for successful completion of the course, and received full tuition support from the larger (MSP)2 project.
Outcomes: Success in College STEM
Altogether, BSU and PGCC awarded more than 3,000 college credit hours in science to 381 students while they were still in high school. Many of them who took advantage of advising from a faculty member seemed to start thinking of themselves as college students, and soon proved it in practice.
After these students graduated from high school, we were able to track nearly half of them into their careers. Unlike many of their peers, nearly all of them entered college immediately, and more than half declared majors in STEM fields. In contrast to the typically low persistence rate of students in STEM majors (about half overall and one-third of African Americans), 80 percent of our dual enrollment students remained in STEM for over one year and/or are still in STEM today. These outcomes were the same regardless of which of our two dual enrollment programs the students had completed.
Several students in the concurrent enrollment program remained enrolled at PGCC after graduating from high school. Of these students, 51 percent entered a STEM-related degree program at some point, 75 percent of whom remained in STEM for at least a year. This is a much higher proportion than the 14 percent of PGCC students who are enrolled in STEM programs at any given time at the college.
Sustainability of Dual Enrollment Programs
The successful model for dual enrollment created by the (MSP)2 partnership has provided an important foundation for the rapid expansion of dual enrollment efforts in the district. New and expanded programs, policies, and collaborative partnerships make use of the specific practices, materials, and relationships developed by our dual enrollment programs.
Most significantly, the partnership between PGCC and Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) has been dramatically strengthened. The two institutions have jointly formed a Dual Enrollment Committee for strategic planning and implementation of programs, which has now met regularly for four years and uses the findings from the (MSP)2 experience to increase opportunities for students. Several new programs have expanded the reach of our dual enrollment program to other science courses and to many non-science and non-STEM courses. (MSP)2 leaders Dr. Felicia Martin Latief (PGCPS) and Dr. Christine Barrow (PGCC), each in charge of STEM education at their institution, have continued to collaborate on STEM dual enrollment activities in the district.
New Policies and Programs
New policies and programs related to dual enrollment have also been implemented, from the local to the state levels, largely because of the positive impact of the (MSP)2 effort. At the state level, recent Maryland legislation (SB 740) now makes it much easier for students to take dual enrollment courses in all subjects, logistically and financially. In Prince George’s County, the district has improved and updated some of its policies and administrative procedures related to college-credit bearing courses (e.g., its plagiarism policy), largely due to feedback from the (MSP)2 dual enrollment experience.
New Teaching Capacity
The teachers of record for the concurrent enrollment program, who are regular science teachers in the participating high schools, also learned a great deal themselves. By assisting and substituting for the college faculty instructors, they learned some environmental or forensic biology, practiced teaching it alongside a colleague, and discovered how students respond to that instruction. These teachers are using this knowledge in their regular classes.
New Practices and Materials
Specific practices and materials developed by (MSP)2 continue to be used in the district’s expanding dual enrollment programs. For example:
- Dual enrollment workshops for PGCPS teachers and PGCC instructors have emulated the multi-day format, in order to strengthen the relationship building and teamwork that were so important during the (MSP)2 program.
- The parent engagement strategies used by (MSP)2 continue to be used to inform and build the support of the parents of dual enrollment students.
- Documents created for the (MSP)2 programs (e.g., applications, handbooks) continue to be the foundation of dual enrollment interactions between PGCPS and PGCC. For example, the Parent-Student Handbook for Dual Enrollment, developed by (MSP)2, has now been revised and is given to parents and students in other dual enrollment programs.
The (MSP)2 partnership’s use of research-based strategies, collaboration of college scientists and school staff, teacher leadership, and partnership among education institutions most likely had a strong impact on program outcomes.
More can and should be done to cement these strategies in each institution’s structure and policy, but we are well underway. The next task for building on the partnership’s success is to help bring them to scale. Students in school districts around the state and the nation would benefit from programs and structures that draw on the lessons learned from (MSP)2 and many other successful initiatives. In particular, strategies for knitting together key partners to address common issues of professional development and student success should be promoted and expanded.
As for the partners of (MSP)2, the aspects of our project that have been sustained and expanded promise to achieve more for our students, and the solid partnership that has been developed across K-12 and higher education in Maryland will undoubtedly generate and strengthen additional efforts in the future.
Carnevale, A. P., & Smith, N. (2012). A decade behind: Breaking out of the low-skill trap in the Southern economy. Georgetown University. Retrieved from http://origin-www.news-press.com/assets/pdf/A4192742730.PDF
Clark, J. V. (1999). Minorities in science and math. ERIC Clearinghouse for Science, Mathematics, and Environmental Education. Columbus, OH.
Hoffman, N. (2005). Add and subtract: Dual enrollment as a state strategy to increase postsecondary success for underrepresented students. Jobs for the Future. Retrieved from http://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED497806
Karp, M. M., Calcagno, J. C., Hughes, K. L., Jeong, D. W., & Bailey, T. R. (2007). The postsecondary achievement of participants in dual enrollment: An analysis of student outcomes in two states. St. Paul, MN: National Research Center for Career and Technical Education, University of Minnesota. Retrieved from http://www.nrccte.org/resources/publications/postsecondary-achievement-participants-dual-enrollment-analysis-student
Kee, A. M. (2007). A model of success: The Model Institutions for Excellence program’s successful leadership in STEM education 1995-2007 (2007 National Report). Institute for Higher Education Policy. Retrieved from http://www.ihep.org/sites/default/files/uploads/docs/pubs/modelsuccessmie.pdf
May, D. B. (2016). Minority student pipeline math science partnership project outcomes report. Adelphi, MD: University System of Maryland. Retrieved from http://hub.mspnet.org//index.cfm/29381?
David May is Director of P-20 Partnerships and STEM Initiatives at University System of Maryland. Christine Barrow is Dean of Sciences, Technology, Engineering, and Math, and Michelle Klein is an associate professor of Biological Sciences at Prince George’s Community College. Felicia Martin Latief is the STEM Instructional Supervisor at Prince George’s County Public Schools
Opinions expressed in Innovation Showcase are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of the League for Innovation in the Community College.