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Continuing Education

High-School Students Are Helped by Taking College Courses, Study Finds

By ELYSE ASHBURN

Students who take college courses while in high school are more likely than their peers to graduate, to go on to college, and to do well in college, a new study suggests.

The courses appear to be especially beneficial for male students, students from low-income families, and those who struggled academically in high school, according to a report on the study, "The Postsecondary Achievement of Participants in Dual Enrollment: An Analysis of Student Outcomes in Two States."

The study is one of the most comprehensive analyses to date of dual-enrollment programs, which allow students to take college classes for both high-school and college credit. It used longitudinal data to examine how the programs worked for students in two locations: the state of Florida and the city of New York.

Dual-enrollment programs have increased in popularity in recent years as policy makers strive to increase the rigor of secondary education. But little research had been done on their effectiveness until now, according to the authors of the new study, who are affiliated with the Community College Research Center at Columbia University's Teachers College.

Analyzing statewide data from Florida, the researchers found that students who took college courses in high school were slightly more likely than their peers to earn a high-school diploma and were 16.8 percent more likely to go on to college. They were 7.7 percent more likely to enroll in a four-year institution and were also more likely to enroll full time, which generally correlates with better outcomes in college.

Once in college, former dual-enrollment students were more likely to stay enrolled and to have significantly higher grade-point averages, even after two years in college.

"This is the best evidence we have to date that dual enrollment is resulting in the intended outcomes," said Katherine L. Hughes, one of the report's authors and an assistant director at the Community College Research Center.

Ms. Hughes and the other researchers also found that students who had participated in the dual-enrollment program in the City University of New York system were similarly helped by the program. That analysis, however, found that students had the most positive outcomes if they took more than one dual-enrollment course.

In both analyses, the researchers were able to control for the influence of pre-existing student characteristics, such as performance in high school, race, and socioeconomic status. But they could not control for some important factors, including the motivational level of students who chose to participate in such programs.

With the Florida data, the researchers were also able to look at what types of students most benefited from dual enrollment. The programs had a much greater effect on whether low-income students and those with poor high-school grades enrolled in college than on whether those students' more-advantaged peers did. They also had a greater influence on whether male students attended college than on whether female students did.

Similar patterns held true for first-year college grade-point averages, cumulative grade-point averages, and college persistence.

Those findings are promising news for states as many move away from limiting dual-enrollment to high-achieving students. Policy makers increasingly see dual enrollment as a way to improve the college-going rate of typically underrepresented students, and the study's data support that view.

"One of the main promises of dual enrollment is to help students who aren't really thinking of themselves as college bound to start thinking of themselves that way," Ms. Hughes said.

Thus the report argues that states should continue to loosen eligibility requirements for dual enrollment, expand outreach, and provide college courses tuition-free for low-income high-school students, if not for all high-school students.