Rodriguez: The number of high school students earning college credit is growing
Santa Teresa High School student Justin Jarvis stands on campus in April 2021. Photo by Lorraine Gabbert.

Dual enrollment, a term sometimes used interchangeably with concurrent enrollment, provides students with the opportunity to earn college credit while still in high school—without paying the cost of college tuition.

While there are differences between dual and concurrent enrollment, both refer to programs by which high school students are able to take college courses taught by college faculty and earn credit toward a high school diploma while simultaneously getting a head start on a degree.

Offered through local community colleges, the number of California students taking dual enrollment courses has been steadily increasing in recent years, growing from about 72,000 in 2016 to approximately 112,000 in 2020, according to research from the Public Policy Institute of California.

At San Jose-Evergreen Community College District, we have also seen our dual enrollment numbers grow over this time period as both San Jose City College and Evergreen Valley College have made a concerted effort to expand dual enrollment opportunities for local students.

As the number of students in dual enrollment programs has increased, study after study shows participating students are more likely to graduate from high school and earn a college degree. In fact, some students have nearly completed both an associate degree and a high school diploma at the same time due to the large number of dual credit courses they completed while still in high school.

While the benefits of dual enrollment are clear, work still needs to be done to ensure equitable access to these programs. Locally, San Jose City College and Evergreen Valley College offer dozens of courses at high schools throughout nine K-12 districts and charter schools that serve students living in San Jose and Milpitas. But across the state, not every high school student has access to such opportunities.

Participation varies by race and socioeconomic status, with a recent report from Wheelhouse, the Center for Community College Leadership and Research at UC Davis, indicating that although the percentage of students of every race participating in dual enrollment programs has increased steadily since 2016, there remains a large gap. Black and Latinx students are taking dual credit courses at significantly lower rates than their white and Asian counterparts. Closing this participation gap is imperative to ensuring equitable access to these beneficial programs.

Closing these gaps and ensuring equity in dual enrollment programs relies on a number of actions, including hiring more diverse, highly qualified instructors to teach the courses and ensuring students taking dual credit courses through their high schools still have access to the kinds of support services available on college campuses, including tutoring, mental health services and basic needs support like food pantries.

Because instructors teaching dual enrollment courses offered at high schools must meet the mandatory minimum qualifications for teaching community college courses, it can be difficult to find qualified instructors willing to teach these classes—particularly for math and English. One possible solution to this barrier is having K-12 and community college districts partner to help high school teachers obtain the master’s degrees necessary to teach college-level courses.

According to a recent report on equity in dual enrollment programs in California, both K-12 and college leaders have indicated that “the lack of instructors with discipline-specific master’s degrees limits their opportunity to expand their pool of instructors and course offerings.”

If we are to fully realize the potential of dual credit and provide more opportunities for more students to earn more college credits while still in high school—thus saving them and their families thousands of dollars in tuition costs—we must overcome these institutional barriers.

San José Spotlight columnist Raúl Rodríguez is Interim Chancellor of San Jose-Evergreen Community College District, which operates San Jose City College, Evergreen Valley College, the Milpitas College Extension and the Community College Center for Economic Mobility. His columns appear every first Wednesday of the month. He can be reached at [email protected]

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