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Expanding Underrepresented Students' Access to and Enrollment in Dual-Credit Courses

By Ashley Pierson and Michelle Hodara | October 9, 2017


Ashley Pierson
Ashley Pierson conducts research and evaluation projects and provides technical assistance to support the use of data and evidence in policy and practice.

Students who participate in dual-credit courses earn college credit for classes they take in high school, allowing them to get a head start on their postsecondary education.

For the past four years, Oregon has been investing in ways to expand access to these courses—and better understand gaps in access—in an effort to increase the number of adults in the state who have earned a college credential (certificate or degree) by 2025.

Our recent REL Northwest study takes a closer look at this topic, examining the various ways high school students earn college credit in Oregon and differences among student groups underrepresented in community college dual-credit courses.

Understanding gaps in access can help education leaders begin to identify barriers that prevent students who have historically been underrepresented in postsecondary education from participating in dual-credit courses and benefiting from the opportunities they offer.

Michelle Hodara
Michelle Hodara is a content expert on postsecondary readiness, and leads research and evaluation projects on programs, policies and practices that improve students’ college access and success. Follow

What We Found

Between 2005–06 and 2012–13, white, female, high-achieving students and students not eligible for free and reduced-price lunch were more likely to enroll in community college dual-credit courses than their peers.

In addition, we found that American Indian/Alaska Native, Hispanic and black students lagged behind white students in dual-credit enrollment by eight, 12 and 15 percentage points, respectively.

We also found that across all racial/ethnic groups, male students trailed female students by seven to nine percentage points in dual-credit enrollment.

Another key finding from the study is that high-achieving white, American Indian/Alaska Native, multiracial, Hispanic and Asian/Pacific Islander students all participated in dual-credit courses at about the same rate—between 45 and 50 percent. However, high-achieving black students only participated at a 35 percent rate.

As mentioned earlier, students who were eligible for free and reduced-price lunch were less likely to participate in dual-credit courses than their non-eligible peers, and the difference in participation rates between these two groups varied across racial/ethnic groups.

American Indian/Alaska Native students had the largest gap (16 percent who were eligible for free and reduced-price lunch participated in dual-credit courses, compared with 30 percent who were not eligible).

Asian/Pacific Islander students had the smallest gap (30 percent who were eligible for free and reduced-price lunch participated in dual-credit courses, compared with 34 percent who were not eligible).

What The Findings Tell Us

There is variation among and within student groups regarding dual-credit course participation, and to better understand and close equity gaps, we need to examine data with an eye to the intersectionality of gender, class, race/ethnicity and other student characteristics.

The reasons some student groups enroll in dual-credit courses at different rates than other groups are systemic and complicated, and we don’t know exactly what factors influence their decisions or how these factors vary across individuals, families, schools and communities.

However, schools, districts and colleges can start to take steps now to address equity gaps in dual-credit enrollment. For example:

  • High schools, districts and colleges can dig into their own policies, practices and data to learn what’s going on and work to expand access to dual-credit opportunities.
  • Districts and colleges can share data and work together to develop solutions. (In Oregon, regional networks of K–12 and two-year and four-year institutions have shown promise for expanding dual-credit opportunities to underrepresented students.)
  • High schools, districts and colleges can use the findings from this study and their own data to inform targeted outreach to students and families that encourages underrepresented student groups to participate in dual-credit courses.