What Happens to Students Who Take Community College Dual Enrollment Courses in High School?
The number of high school students taking dual enrollment courses at community colleges has grown dramatically in the last two decades as students and their families have seized on the potential of these courses to give students a jump-start on college and to save money by finishing college faster. As shown in Figure 1, from 1995 to 2015, fall enrollments of students aged 17 or younger at public four-year institutions grew from 72,000 to 220,000, while at community colleges they grew from 163,000 to 745,000. These data indicate that community colleges’ market share of students aged 17 or younger taking college courses increased from 56 percent in 1995 to 69 percent in 2015.
Figure 1. Growth of Dual Enrollment, 1995-2015 IPEDS Fall Enrollments
Numerous studies have shown that these dual enrollment students are more likely to graduate high school, go on to college, and complete college degrees than other students (for a recent review, see U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, What Works Clearinghouse, 2017). Despite the growing prevalence and potential benefits of high school dual enrollment, many colleges and states have not closely monitored which students participate, where they enroll in college after high school, and how many complete a college degree.
This article summarizes findings from a recent Community College Research Center report, What Happens to Students Who Take Community College “Dual Enrollment” Courses in High School? (Fink, Jenkins, & Yanagiura, 2017), which examined national and state-specific patterns of college matriculation and degree completion of students who participated in high school dual enrollment. In our report, we present the results of an analysis of student enrollment and degree records from National Student Clearinghouse (NSC) to examine who enrolls in dual enrollment courses and what happens to them after high school. We focus on students who took college courses offered by community colleges, since those institutions provide the majority of dual enrollment offerings nationally.
We tracked more than 200,000 high school students who took a community college class in fall 2010 for six years, through summer 2016. Overall, we found that 88 percent of community college dual enrollment students continued in college after high school, and most earned a degree or transferred within six years. What type of college former dual enrollment students attended after high school and how many completed a college credential varied greatly by state. And many states showed big disparities in degree completion rates between lower and higher income students.
Nationally, in fall 2010, 15 percent of new community college students were dual enrollment high school students, ranging from 1 percent in Georgia to 34 percent in Kentucky. (Based on national trend data presented in Figure 1, the numbers have likely grown since then.) As shown in Figure 2, the ratio of first time in college (FTIC) dual enrollment students (age 17 or younger) to FTIC post-HS (age 18 or older) community college entrants varied by state. Some states, such as Kentucky, New Hampshire, North Dakota, and Iowa, had relatively high proportions of high school dual enrollment students compared with post-HS community college entrants. Other states, including Georgia, Hawaii, South Dakota, and Connecticut, had lower proportions of dual enrollment students at community colleges. Readers should note that there could be higher levels of high school dual enrollment than reported here in some states if a substantial amount of dual enrollment occurs at four-year institutions. Nearly two-thirds of community college dual enrollment students nationally were from low- or middle-income families—about the same proportion as students who start in a community college after high school.
Figure 2. Dual Enrollments as a Percentage of FTIC Community College Enrollments in Fall 2010, by State
Note: For confidentiality, results for states with fewer than three community colleges are withheld. To browse all of the state-by-state results, see the interactive visualization of findings from Fink et al.’s (2017) report, available at https://ccrc.tc.columbia.edu/dual-enrollment.html.
Many community college dual enrollment students do not continue taking dual enrollment courses after their first term. Overall, 30 percent of students who first participated in dual enrollment in fall 2010 had no other college enrollments prior to turning 18, including summer enrollments. In other words, these students only participated in high school dual enrollment at a community college for one term. Furthermore, 42 percent of students who first participated in dual enrollment in fall 2010 participated for only two terms, and 28 percent participated for three terms or more.
Nearly half of former community college dual enrollment students first attended a community college after high school, and 84 percent of those students went to the college where they had participated in dual enrollment in high school. Forty-one percent of former dual enrollment students went to a four-year college after high school. Only 12 percent did not enroll in any college between the ages of 18 and 20. Among former dual enrollment students who did enroll in college soon after high school, the type of institution they first attended at ages 18–20 varied greatly by state (see Figure 3). For example, in Hawaii, Washington, and Wyoming, more than 60 percent of former dual enrollment students first attended a community college at ages 18–20. In other states—Pennsylvania, Louisiana, New Hampshire, and Tennessee—57 percent or more of these students first attended a four-year college at ages 18–20.
Figure 3. First Enrollment at Age 18–20 Among Former Dual Enrollment Students, by State
Note: For confidentiality, results for states with fewer than three community colleges are withheld. To browse all of the state-by-state results, see the interactive visualization of findings from Fink et al.’s (2017) report, available at https://ccrc.tc.columbia.edu/dual-enrollment.html. (Figure 3 in this publication is Figure 5 in the report.)
Among former dual enrollment students who started at community college after high school, 46 percent earned a college credential within five years. The percentage ranged from 28 percent in West Virginia to 64 percent in Florida. In addition to Florida, more than half of students in 12 other states, including North Dakota, Mississippi, Minnesota and New York, earned some type of college credential or degree. In 13 states, there were 10+ percentage point gaps in completion rates between lower- and higher-income former dual enrollment students who first enrolled in a community college after high school. Minnesota, Missouri, and Iowa had more parity in completion rates.
Sixty-four percent of former community college dual enrollment students who first enrolled in a four-year college after high school completed a degree five years after high school. The completion rates ranged from 34 percent in Nevada to 75 percent in Florida. In nine states including Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, and Virginia, more than 70 percent of former dual enrollment students who attended four-year colleges earned a college credential. Most states had achievement gaps between lower- and higher-income former dual enrollment students who entered a four-year college after high school, and there were 23 states with 10+ percentage point gaps. In New Jersey, Kansas, Ohio, California and Texas the gap was 20 percentage points or more.
Taking college courses in high school has the potential to help students make progress toward a college degree more efficiently. This study shows that among former community college dual enrollment students who first enrolled in a community college after high school, 46 percent completed a college credential—certificate, associate degree, or bachelor’s degree—five years after high school. Other research using similar data finds that only 39 percent of students who started community college after high school earned any college degree within six years. Among students who started at a four-year college, 64 percent of former community college dual enrollment students completed a college credential within five years. Other research finds the same degree completion rate among students entering four-year institutions nationally after high school, but within six years.
Despite the potential benefits, the research raises important questions about why dual enrollment students in some states do substantially better in college than in others and why there are large achievement gaps between different income groups in some states. Not all dual enrollment courses are delivered in the same manner. Some are taught by credentialed teachers in high schools, some are taught on college campuses, and some are offered online. A growing number of colleges have established early college high schools, which provide a more comprehensive curriculum, not just discrete courses. The NSC data used in our analyses do not provide information about the delivery method of the dual enrollment courses. They do not indicate which courses students take or whether the college credits they earn apply toward a degree, nor do they take into account the eligibility criteria for participating in dual enrollment, which vary by state and in some cases by college. Still, they afford a high-level view of who enrolls in community college dual enrollment courses, where these students enroll after high school, and how successful they are in earning degrees.
If colleges are to improve rates of college-going and completion by dual enrollment students generally, and those from disadvantaged backgrounds in particular, they will need to monitor their dual enrollment students more closely, both while they are still in high school and after they graduate. Colleges can begin by running analyses using the outcome measures presented in Fink, Jenkins, and Yanagiura’s (2017) report, and they can merge NSC data with their own student records to further disaggregate outcome data by high school, race/ethnicity, and other student characteristics of interest. Using the results presented by Fink et al., they can benchmark their performance against aggregate outcomes for other two- or four-year institutions nationally and in their state. The findings from such analyses will be a good starting point for colleges, working with their high school partners, to examine what strategies are working to help dual enrollment students not only enroll in college after high school, but earn college credentials in a timely fashion, and what additional steps are needed to improve college access and success for all students.
Fink, J., Jenkins, D., & Yanagiura, T. (2017). What happens to students who take community college “dual enrollment” courses in high school? New York, NY: Columbia University, Teachers College, Community College Research Center and the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.
U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, What Works Clearinghouse. (2017). Transition to college intervention report: Dual enrollment programs. Retrieved from https://whatworks.ed.gov
 For students who are 17 or younger, IPEDS collects only fall enrollment data. Enrollment figures for the full academic year would be even larger.
 We used student enrollment and degree record data from NSC on a cohort of first-time-in-college (FTIC) students who entered higher education at a community college in the fall of 2010. Consistent with previous NSC reports, we classified students who were younger than 18 years old at the time of their first enrollment as “high school dual enrollment students.” To estimate where former dual enrollment students enrolled in college after they graduated high school, we classified former dual enrollment students by the type of college at which they first matriculated at ages 18–20. In looking at former dual enrollment students’ college attainment outcomes, we focus solely on students who first participated in high school dual enrollment at a community college at age 17 in fall 2010. See page 5 of Fink et al., (2017) for more on data and definitions.
 See Figure 3 in Fink et al. (different from Figure 3 in this publication) to examine how this varies by students’ starting age.
John Fink is Research Associate; Davis Jenkins is Senior Research Scholar; and Takeshi Yanagiura is Graduate Research Assistant at the Community College Research Center, Teachers College, Columbia University, New York.
Opinions expressed in Learning Abstracts are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of the League for Innovation in the Community College.