Dual credit: a chance to prepare students for a competitive world

Photo by Gabriel Cristóver Pérez

Dual credit, whether it involves academic or career technical education coursework, is an opportunity to prepare Texas students for the competitive world beyond high school and beyond higher education.

Dual-credit courses stem from an agreement between a high school and a university or community college whereby an eligible student enrolls in a college course and simultaneously earns college credit and high school credit. As of fall 2015, dual-credit courses are now also available to high school freshmen and sophomores in addition to juniors and seniors.

In 2015, 94 percent of dual-credit enrollment occurred at Texas public two-year colleges. Across the state, dual-credit enrollments have grown 650 percent since 2000. In fall 2015 there were more than 133,000 dual-credit enrollees, an increase of 21,000 dual-credit students over the previous fall. Participation has grown in both academic courses and career technical education, as well as among economically disadvantaged and diverse student populations. For example, Hispanics increased from 20 percent of all dual-credit enrollments in 2000 to 45 percent in 2015. Economically disadvantaged students increased from 26 percent of dual-credit enrollments in 2000 to 45 percent in 2015.

Statewide, 3.6 percent of high school graduates who took dual credit earned an associate degree and 1.8 percent earned a certificate by the time they graduated in 2015. Dual-credit students who enrolled at public four-year universities had higher completion rates than the overall population of first-time, four-year enrollees.

These data suggest that dual credit has been providing an important opportunity for academically prepared high school students to complete college-level work. As a result, there is a great deal of interest in rapidly expanding these programs in Texas as a way to not only accelerate educational attainment but to also hold down the cost of achieving a postsecondary credential.

These are noble goals. It is not surprising that many people are wanting to expand dual-credit opportunities. However, we must be careful to ensure that the students taking these courses are prepared for the rigor of college courses. According to the 2016 ACT Profile Report for Texas, a record number of Texas students in the 2016 graduating class — 142,877, which is a 12.7 percent increase — took the ACT. Most of this growth came from Hispanic students. However, only 26 percent of all Texas students met the ACT readiness benchmarks, which is down a percentage point over 2015. According to SAT Performance Data, 32 percent of Texas students who took the test met the SAT college readiness benchmark in 2014-15. According to the Texas Success Initiative (TSI) assessment data, 29.95 percent of students met the college-readiness standard in all three areas.

As dual credit is expanded, we need to ensure academic rigor of these college-level courses and require that dual credit students demonstrate college readiness before enrolling in such courses. To do otherwise is a great disservice to students and their families and will likely increase the amount of money Texas spends on higher education. An estimated 60 percent of Texas elementary and secondary students are poor. Dual credit is one way to help these economically disadvantaged students obtain a higher education credential, whether a certificate, associate or bachelor’s degree or higher.

But dual-credit access without preparation is not a promising opportunity.

To ensure rigor in dual-credit courses, students must meet the TSI requirements or other eligibility requirements, such as the ACT, SAT or PSAT, to enroll in dual credit for better outcomes in college readiness. Higher education and K-12 also need to do a better job collaborating to develop college and career readiness standards that support expanded dual-credit efforts.

In 2011 the Texas Education Agency collaborated with the American Institutes for Research on a study of Texas dual-credit programs and courses. The findings regarding student performance were generally positive, but dual-credit opportunities and enrollment criteria have changed and expanded over the past five years. Texas is now conducting a thorough study to determine the rigor of dual-credit courses and how dual credit benefits students as they transition from high school to postsecondary endeavors.

With the hard work of K-12 educators, higher education staff and legislators, Texas has the potential to achieve great things as we strive to meet the goals of our 60x30TX strategic plan for higher education. A collaborative, thoughtful approach to dual-credit expansion will better prepare students either for further academic work at higher education institutions or for the workforce, providing students with greater opportunities in a competitive global economy.

Raymund Paredes

Texas higher education commissioner