Learning Curves Topic
  • Continuing Education
Learning Curves
December 7, 2017

Going Beyond the Scores . . . a Continuation from Last Week’s “Learning Curves” Post

MHT Partners  | Education Investment Bank

While it was once typical for American students to matriculate into college only after earning their high school diploma, students nowadays receive their first taste of university as early as their freshman year of high school. Duel Enrollment (“DE”) programs allow students to take college-level courses that can generate both high school and college credits. DE programs have seen a significant bump in popularity since the early 2000s (67% growth from 2002 to nearly 1.4 million students in 2010), as students’ awareness of the potential cost savings and desire to add rigor to their standard high school studies grows(1).

DE programs are different from Advanced Placement (“AP”) coursework in that courses can be taken outside of the high school classroom, often on a local college campus or even online. Concurrent enrollment is another option, in which courses are taught by college-approved high school teachers in a high school setting. Additionally, DE students are awarded a course grade as opposed to an exam score.

Like AP students, studies have shown that DE students are more likely than nonparticipants to graduate high school, enroll in college, and earn college degrees(1). For example, high school students who participate in DE at a four-year college or university are estimated to have four-year college enrollment rates that are 8.1%-15.3% higher than their nonparticipant peers (2):

Several qualitative advantages further differentiate DE programs from standard high school academics as well as other academically rigorous high school activities. DE programs:

  1.  Introduce high school students to the rigorous work load that comes with college coursework
  2. Provide the potential to earn transferable credits for both high school and college course requirements, which can be worth thousands of dollars in future course savings with the ability to graduate early
  3. Help students gauge academic interest in order to avoid costly changes in major while at college
  4. Expose students to subjects directly applicable to a desired future major or technical skill
  5. Ease the transition from high school to college
  6. Provide an alternative to AP courses
  7. Are structured based on grades and credits earned on a continual basis, as opposed to being determined by one final exam as is the case with AP courses
  8. Promote four-year degrees to students at an earlier, impressionable age

While DE programs can certainly be beneficial, they are not without risk or pitfalls. As students decide whether or not to enroll in such coursework, there are several points for consideration:

  1. Students must ensure the course is still challenging. For example, an introduction course at a community college may not be as rigorous as a high school AP course
  2. Transferability of credits to college depends on individual university or college policy
  3. Fully capitalizing on DE programs means that high school students must be mindful of how their high school course work can contribute to their future degree
  4. DE program availability varies by region and space in such classes can be limited
  5. While some DE programs are free, some come with a price tag that may be too hefty even if it is cheaper than typical tuition

As the cost of college increases and admissions competition rises, high school students find themselves in a challenging position when it comes to deciding on post-secondary education. With programs like AP and DE, students gain exposure to college at an earlier age, enhance potential to cut future college costs, and are more likely to be successful in college.

(1) Community College Research Center; National Student Clearinghouse Research Center: “What Happens to Students Who Take Community College “Dual Enrollment” Courses in High School?”
(2) College Board Research Reports: “A Comparison of the College Outcomes of AP and Dual Enrollment Students”

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