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New Report Finds Accelerated College Credit Programs Have Positive Outcomes for Students

Xinxin Zhang

Xinxin Zhang

Katherine Shields

Katherine Shields

Wed Jun 30 2021

College and career readiness is a top priority for the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE). One of the state's key strategies for improving youth college and career readiness is through accelerated college credit programs. These programs allow students to earn college credits while in high school through the following options:

  • Dual enrollment: A program that allows high school students to attend college courses taught by college faculty on a college campus.
  • Concurrent enrollment: A program that allows high school students to take college courses taught by high school teachers at the students' school.
  • Advanced Placement (AP): A high school course that culminates in a standardized subject area assessment administered by the College Board. Many colleges accept test scores for college credit.

How Rhode Island Saved Families Millions in College Tuition

In 2015, Rhode Island launched the Prepare Rhode Island (PrepareRI) Dual Enrollment Fund, an ambitious initiative aimed at improving youth career readiness by making dual and concurrent enrollment tuition free for students.

This fund has saved Rhode Island families more than $45 million as nearly 125,000 credits were earned by students at Rhode Island College, University of Rhode Island, and the Community College of Rhode Island since the 2015/16 school year, according to RIDE's calculations. Through PrepareRI, RIDE has also expanded AP coursework. From 2010 to 2019, the percentage of RI graduates taking an AP test increased from 18 to 40 percent.

Do Students Benefit from Accelerated College Credit Programs?

Have these investments in accelerated college credit programs made a difference for students? To answer this question, RIDE and the Rhode Island Office of the Postsecondary Commissioner partnered with REL Northeast & Islands to examine the effect of these accelerated college credit programs on educational attainment. The study, based on 8,726 students who were first-time ninth graders in Rhode Island public schools in the 2013/14 school year, yielded the following key findings:

  • Forty-one percent of students participated in one or more accelerated college credit programs.
  • Accelerated college credit program participation increases a student's estimated probability of graduating from high school by 21 percentage points.
  • Accelerated college credit program participation increases a student's estimated probability of enrolling in college within a year of high school graduation by 30 percentage points.
  • The effects of accelerated college credit program participation were similar for economically disadvantaged and non-economically disadvantaged students.

Spencer Sherman, Chief for Innovation from RIDE, was very excited about the study results. "This is the first time that we have done this level of rigorous study [on these programs]," he said during at the quarterly meeting of the Rhode Island Board of Education, "and the research shows that our investment in accelerated college credit courses is working. We hope to expand this work in coming years."

Future Plans to Expand

With the results of this study in hand, RIDE plans to advocate to state legislators for maintaining and expanding the PrepareRI Dual Enrollment Fund. They also plan to continue expanding AP and concurrent enrollment course offerings in urban schools.

RIDE will continue to work with REL Northeast & Islands to study the effects of accelerated college credit programs. Next, the study team will explore the relationship between student outcomes and different features of accelerated college credit programs, including course length and subject area and the number of courses a student takes.

To learn more about this study and its results, explore the full report, a one-page snapshot, and a companion infographic highlighting the study's key findings. To find out about their accelerated college credit programs, visit RIDE's website. And to learn more about studies, training, coaching, events, and other resources for college and career readiness, visit the REL Northeast & Islands Rhode Island Pipelines to College and Career Research Partnership page. The study team included Katherine Shields, Makoto Hanita, Jessica Bailey, and Xinxin Zhang.