Research

Texas Draft Report Tackles Dual-Credit Outcomes

graduation cap and degree on wood table

A recent draft report on dual credit participation by Texas students confirmed that those who took such courses had better college outcomes than high school graduates who didn't; that they completed their college degrees faster; and that although progress is being made, a participation "disparity" still exists for "less advantaged groups."

Dual credit (DC) education lets high school students take college-level courses that provide credit for high school and college. These have been around for easily five decades in the United States; but according to "Dual Credit Education in Texas," there's "surprisingly little research that provides practical, evidence-based guidance on how to structure, target and scale DC education programs to ensure that they benefit students."

The research for the draft report was conducted by RAND Education and the American Institutes for Research, in collaboration with the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board and K-12 consultancy Gibson Consulting. The work was funded by several nonprofits, including the Texas Higher Education Foundation.

Why Texas? Since 2000, the state has seen 650 percent growth in the number of students who enroll in DC classes. That growth has two drivers, according to the report: a bigger push among Texas high schools and colleges to expand the number of opportunities students have to earn college credit before they graduate; and a mandate by Texas legislators that prohibited the state from putting restrictions on what grades students had to be in to take DC courses or how many DC classes they could take. Both of those efforts grew out of 60x30TX, the state's higher education strategic plan that has a goal of making sure 60 percent of its young adults, ages 25 to 34, hold some type of postsecondary credential by 2030. For now, the state wants to know about the "accessibility, diversity, quality and efficiency" of its DC education programs.

Through the years there have been critics who have offered up varied complaints about the state's DC efforts: that some DC courses aren't as rigorous as college-credit-only courses (thereby setting students on a path to failure later on when they take actual college courses); that DC education isn't the best use of public resources; that the students won't get college credit for the DC courses they take or will be compelled to take unnecessary courses; or that DC education is less accessible to traditionally underserved students, including minorities and low-income students.

The research used three primary forms of data: administrative information collected by the Higher Ed Coordinating Board and the Texas Education Agency; academic and policy studies on DC education programs in the United States and Texas; and interviews with DC administrators at specific Texas community colleges to understand how they implement DC programs.

This first phase of research led to four broad findings.

  • Before the new law was put in place, DC students had better college outcomes than high school graduates who never took a DC course. They also had higher college enrollment rates after high school — especially at four-year schools — and were "significantly" more like to persist in and finish college. However, the researchers declined to state in the draft report that DC education improved student outcomes.
  • DC instruction and advising vary across institutions. While program administrators reported using "common" syllabi and state policy stipulates common learning objectives for all lower-division courses, nothing guarantees that DC instructors have "equivalent academic backgrounds" or teaching experience. Also, advising differed from one program to the next.
  • Disparities exist in participation rates by race/ethnicity, income and city vs. rural high school locations. While the research found that growth in DC participation since 2000 was greatest among African-American and Hispanic high school graduates, the gaps still exist, and the researchers can't "pinpoint" why. (However, they did suggest that the disparities could be due to differences in DC access across high schools, preparation and demand for DC across demographic groups, access to alternative forms of college-level coursework in high school or variations in advising practices at the high school level.)
  • DC students took, on average, half an academic year less to finish their four-year degrees. The number of semester credit hours was "roughly" the same among DC and non-DC students.

The next study on tap will drill down to get more specific insights on such topics as differences in curricula, assessment methods and teaching approaches; how advising might be improved; how the costs compare for delivering credits through DC programs vs. traditional college offerings; and why the disparities among student groups continue to persist.

The interim report is available on the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board website.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal and Campus Technology. She can be reached at dian@dischaffhauser.com or on Twitter @schaffhauser.

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