The Big Deal about Dual Credit

Ann M. Pearson

Of all the creative ways students make headway toward college completion, getting a running start seems particularly ingenious. Dual-credit programs in which students receive both high school and college credit simultaneously are one of the most significant movements in higher ed since the Carnegie Foundation defined credit hours in the early 20th century. Depending on the school of thought to which you subscribe, dual credit was first introduced in the U.S. as early as the 1950s when Advanced Placement (AP) courses took off, wherein high school students participated in more challenging classes than those in the typical high school curriculum and tested to determine if they would receive college credit. Or the beginning may be in the early 1970s at Syracuse University in New York under a program interestingly called Project Advance (PA) to combat senioritis and allow students more challenging options while still in high school. AP, PA—these early programs evolved into our current dual-credit programs.

Dual credit has always had its critics and its champions. Naysayers claim high school students are too immature to tackle college-level work, faculty are watering down curriculum, and the system is somehow rushing children unnecessarily through their school years. Fans, however, see dual credit as an advancement opportunity for students who otherwise might not attend college for a variety of reasons.

At San Jacinto College, we do dual credit in a big way. In the fall 2016 semester, we had 2,227 dual-credit students in our student body of about 30,000, hailing from 53 different high schools including private, public, and homeschooled students. This doesn’t include students in our four Early College High Schools that reach another 3,549 students. Dr. Pam Campbell leads these efforts at San Jacinto, and she’s fully aware of the challenges we face bringing in students as young as 14 onto our college campuses. She also recognizes the benefits of maintaining high expectations for all our students, whether dual-credit or traditional students. According to Campbell, dual credit “allows students to transition from secondary education to an opportunity to be more responsible for their own learning outside of the classroom at the postsecondary level. It also allows them to build those college-ready behaviors while they are still living at home. The advantage, then, is that they can learn to handle the coursework before they have to do so when removed from their traditional support system.”

Another benefit of dual credit is that it introduces students who may not have thought of attending college to the rigors of college work. These capable and ambitious students learn that they can succeed in college. And immediately after high school, they have at least one college course (and usually more) under their belts, promoting the common sense philosophy that you can’t finish what you don’t start.

Our faculty interact with our dual-credit students in the same way they do with all our students. In fact, dual-credit students are mixed in with other students who may be returning to college after a long time lapse or who may have just graduated from high school recently. It doesn’t matter—they’re all college students, and we’re dedicated to student success for all of them. We set high standards for our students and expect them to reach that bar. Any other way doesn’t benefit anyone.

Originally published as a Faculty Voices Project blog post on March 28, 2017.