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The Dual Enrollment Playbook: A Guide to Equitable Acceleration for Students

American Educator, Fall 2021

Millions of high school students participate in dual enrollment programs to take credit-bearing college courses and get a head start on completing a college degree. The benefits of high-quality dual enrollment include increased academic motivation and self-confidence, stronger academic performance, and higher graduation rates in high school and college. Dual enrollment can be most beneficial for students from marginalized communities with historically low access to college—such as students of color (particularly Black, Latinx, Indigenous, and Pacific Islander), from low-income backgrounds, who are learning English, and/or who are in special education—but it needs to be carefully planned to offer equitable instructional supports. As more educators consider starting or expanding dual enrollment programs, one critical goal is to increase equity in opportunities to participate and to succeed. This is the focus of The Dual Enrollment Playbook, a collaborative report published by the Aspen Institute and the Community College Research Center.

The report summarizes lessons learned from an examination of nine successful dual enrollment programs in Florida, Ohio, and Washington. It offers the following five “Principles to Advance Equity in High-Quality Dual Enrollment.”

Set a Shared Vision and Goals That Prioritize Equity

Successful dual enrollment partners connected the program to a broader vision: students who are ready not only for college but also for meaningful, in-demand careers. They understood the equity gaps in their schools and set goals for addressing them. In one high school, staff started an awareness campaign featuring a “men of color event” for Black and Latinx students to learn how dual enrollment could lead to rewarding careers. In another school with significant achievement challenges, many teachers and families thought students could not meet the high expectations of the dual enrollment program. One determined English teacher persisted, and with years of patience, establishing trust, and growing the program, the culture of the school and community changed. Families now demand more accelerated programs and courses for students—and the school significantly improved its graduation and college-going rates.

Expand Equitable Access

In successful dual enrollment programs, educators and partners believe all students—and especially students of color—can succeed in college and eliminate barriers to equitable access. Beginning in sixth grade in some cases, they initiate conversations about college prep programs and provide knowledge about what it takes to enroll and succeed in college. Middle school teachers arrange college campus field trips and highlight the accomplishments of former students who completed dual enrollment. High school staff actively recruit students who do not know about dual enrollment, debunk myths about college, and seek funding to support students who need help with program costs, transportation, and technology.

Connect Students to Advising and Supports That Ensure Equitable Outcomes

The programs highlighted in the playbook had mandatory student advising to help students match their life goals to a degree and resulting well-paying career. Advisors helped students design an academic plan to meet degree goals efficiently. Because failing even one dual enrollment course can derail students’ progress toward a degree, successful programs featured frequent communication between high school and college instructors and counselors to monitor student progress and to provide supports (e.g., tutoring, peer mentoring, mental health counseling, and social services) for struggling students.

Provide High-Quality Instruction That Builds Students’ Competence and Confidence

The authors found that in high-quality dual enrollment programs, high school teachers explicitly taught students what to expect and told students that they were capable of meeting these expectations. Those who taught dual enrollment courses showed students the lecture-based instruction they were likely to receive in future college courses and ensured strong academic preparation using active learning and culturally responsive teaching strategies. Students also learned college expectations and study skills through orientation sessions and courses integrated into the program. In addition, instructors were carefully selected and intentionally supported; college faculty who were not accustomed to teaching younger students and high school teachers who were not accustomed to teaching college-level material were both provided professional development.

Organize Teams and Develop Relationships to Maximize Potential

The authors stress that the foundation of a successful dual enrollment program is partnership between the stakeholders: middle and high school teachers and leaders, college faculty and administrators, district superintendents, student advisors, transition coaches, and community program champions. The strongest programs identified partners that met regularly in strategic teams to collaborate on solutions to improve access and equity; collected data on student participation, academic progress, and success outcomes; and used that data to evaluate the program and make improvements.

Visit go.aft.org/v1h to download the full report, plus guides for getting started and increasing equity.

American Educator, Fall 2021
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