Shaping Success: The Ongoing Rise of Dual Enrollment

Dual Enrollment partnerships between high schools and colleges that allow high school students to earn college credit for courses they take are known as dual enrollment, concurrent enrollment, dual credit, and early college.

Dual enrollment programs have grown tremendously over the past decade primarily because state and federal governments have encouraged these partnerships and recognition of high school student achievement. These programs save the states’ money from their total financial support for public K-12 and higher education and shorten the time for a resident to graduate from college.

National Alliance of Concurrent Enrollment Partnerships

The National Alliance of Concurrent Enrollment Partnerships (NACEP) was established in 1997. The college and university leaders who founded it were concerned about the quality of college classes offered to high school students by concurrent enrollment partnerships. It has more than 600 members.

The following data points from NACEP are important to understand the growth of dual enrollments.

  • 34% of U.S. students take college courses in high school – up from 10% in 2010.
  • Five states exceed the national average.
    • Indiana – 58% of high school graduates complete at least one course.
    • Iowa – 56.8% of Iowa seniors enrolled in college courses in high school.
    • Idaho – 57% of high school graduates earned college credit in high school.
    • Minnesota – 42.8% of high school grads enrolled in at least one college course in 2018-2019 school year
    • Colorado – 38.2% of Colorado high school graduates participated in the state’s concurrent enrollment program.
  • 80% of dual enrollment students nationally take their college courses at their own school.
  • 9 out of 10 high schools offer college courses.
  • Students from low-income backgrounds who participated in dual enrollment were nearly 10% more likely to enter college than non-participating peers.
  • One state found that 6-year college graduation rates for students of color that participated in dual enrollment were 33% higher than those who had not participated.
  • While 76% of traditional and 72% of magnet schools offer dual enrollment courses, far fewer charter (40%), alternative (20%) and special education (34%) schools offer such programs.
  • In 2019, 37 states enacted legislation expanding dual enrollment programs.

Dual Enrollment Agreements

Most dual enrollment programs are developed through partnerships between a high school and a college. Usually, a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) or an Articulation Agreement govern the terms for the evaluation of the course(s), required teacher credentials, the awarding of credit, how credit is transcripted by the college, and the cost of the transcription for each student in each course by the college.

Courses taught by the high school versus courses taught by the college may have different economic terms. Many states have no charge for public school students who enroll in dual credit courses with public community colleges or universities. Some school districts within a state may charge more to an out-of-district student enrolled in one of their courses.

The (NACEP) accredits some of these partnerships and as part of the process, assures that the courses have the rigor expected for college courses. Ten states have utilized NACEP guidelines within their state dual enrollment statutes.

Dual Enrollment Playbook

Three years ago, I wrote about the Dual Enrollment playbook for high school students in a report issued by the Community College Research Center (CCRC) at Columbia University’s Teachers’ College, the Aspen Institute’s College Excellence Program, and the Aspen Institute Education and Society Program.

If you’re interested in reading my analysis of the CCRC report, read my blog, The Dual Enrollment Playbook and Helping High School Students.

The report identified nine dual enrollment programs in Ohio, Florida, and Washington that high participation for underrepresented students of color and strong outcomes for these students in course success, credit accumulation, and college enrollment and persistence. The researchers identified five principles that build a strong and equitable dual enrollment program.

Just last week, the CCRC issued another report, Deep Insights: Redesigning Dual Enrollment as a Purposeful to College and Career Opportunity.

The researchers analyzed six dual enrollment programs between community colleges and high schools in Florida and Texas where “guided pathways practices to DE offerings have achieved strong results using DE to expand college access and opportunities for Black, Hispanic, and low-income high school students.

Building trust and educating families and parents is important, particularly for first generation college families not familiar with higher education. Some of the most successful schools suspended placement testing to determine eligibility for DE programs and utilized high school grades as an alternative eligibility tool. In fact, Florida policymakers incorporated high school grades in their dual enrollment state statute.

Maryland – Wealthy State with Low Dual Enrollment

I was a long time Maryland resident before moving to Texas four years ago. I was curious why Maryland’s high school students are not enrolling at the same percentage that other states’ students enroll.

The answer may be that the state hasn’t been actively promoting dual enrollment as strongly as other states have. In fact, it wasn’t until 2013 that a Maryland statute was passed requiring an annual report on dual enrollment students.

The state of Maryland has a statute defining dual credit and a website that tracks annual enrollment of dual credit students. In Fall 2012, 5,534 students were identified as dually enrolled. The vast majority, 5,428, attended community colleges, 69 attended public four-year colleges, and 37 attended independent colleges and universities.

By the 2017-2018 academic year, 13,504 Maryland high school students were dually enrolled. This represents an increase of 66% from the 2010-2011 school year and dual enrollment students have increased to 5.1% of all Maryland public high school students. The percentages vary by county.

While there are dual enrollment students in all four grades in Maryland, the percentage of enrollees are greatest in 11th (23%) and 12th (63%).

I don’t know whether this indicates that Maryland school districts have taken the easy way out and identified primarily senior level courses as worthy of college credit or not. It seems to me that some of the public schools that send a large percentage of their graduates to college would have less concentration in 12th grade enrollments but that school-specific data was not located.

fewer community college students are enrolling
Dual Enrollment at a Community College

Maryland’s dual enrollment program provides a subsidy to Maryland colleges that also enroll students who are home-schooled or who attend private schools. Howard County Community College (HCCC) charges these students 50% of the in-county tuition rate while charging $0 to Howard County Public Schools students.

Howard County is the wealthiest county in Maryland. Notably, HCCC offers 30-credit and 60-credit (degree) dual enrollment options for high school students who enroll early.

The 60-credit (degree) option is only attainable if a student is enrolled in 30-credits their senior year of high school. For those few students who earn a two-year degree, I assume the first 30 credits are more distributed across earlier high school years (9th, 10th, and 11th).

The University of Maryland (27%) and the University of Baltimore (26%) received the largest percentage of Maryland’s dual enrollment students after high school graduation. I don’t know what percentage of those students transferring credits attended community college after high school.

Johns Hopkins (JHU) accounted for 70% of all dually enrolled students who enrolled in Maryland’s state-aided independent segment (184 students total, 51% in grade 11). The JHU dual enrollment students may have matriculated through its Center for Talented Youth. There is no data indicating how many, if any, of the JHU students matriculated there after high school.

Most of Maryland’s dual enrollment students enrolled in English (3,367), math (1,965), and social sciences and history (2,192) courses. Nonetheless, Maryland has a long way to go to match the national average of 34% of high school students taking a college course.

College Requirements for courses taught in high school

The NACEP statistics indicate that approximately 80% of dual enrollment students take classes at their high schools. Almost universally, college accrediting bodies require that a high school teacher who is the instructor for a dual enrollment course have a master’s degree.

Some colleges may require the teacher’s master’s degree to be in the subject area. Some MOUs assert the college’s right to review teacher’s academic credentials while others may require a list of teachers, their credentials, and the course(s) that they teach in the dual enrollment program.

college auditorium with hundreds of students looking at projector screen
College auditorium class

Which Courses Should Be Included in Dual Enrollment Programs?

One of the important decisions for a high school is where to focus their choices for dual enrollment courses. Some of those decisions may be limited to courses taught by teachers with appropriate credentials. For high schools that do not have a shortage of teachers with master’s degrees, the decisions are more strategic.

Students who select dual credit courses are said to benefit more when the dual credit program is structured. That structure could be related to required general education courses at local colleges or it could be more specific as in Math, foreign or world languages, or computer science. As noted by the CCRC paper, underrepresented minorities and lower income students demonstrate more success with structured dual enrollment programs.

In my review of other states’ programs, the Arizona State University Prep Digital (ASU Prep) partnership with Arizona State University (ASU) surfaced. ASU Prep is an online private school that is owned by ASU. It has a very expansive dual enrollment program with 116 online courses in 16 program areas offered by its parent university .

For students attending ASU Prep full time, it appears that they can include four ASU college courses in their annual courses taken at no additional charge. I noted that its $600 per course charge for students is negotiable when approached by an out-of-state school. ASU Prep also has specific college pathways for students opting to take college courses while in high school.

Rigorous Dual Enrollment Courses Equal College Success

I have not read a report about dual enrollment programs that indicated a lack of college success of students who enrolled. At the same time, as more states encourage dual enrollment, public schools may be questioned why more of their students are not enrolled. It will be important to verify the rigor of the programs and the transferability of credits earned by students.

Community colleges enroll the largest percentage of high school students participating in dual enrollment programs. It’s no secret that community college students have struggled to have 100% of their credits transferred to a four-year college when pursuing a bachelor’s degree.

States should improve their reporting and their analysis of the reasons for credit transfer success as well as credit transfer failures to safeguard the integrity of these programs. After all, everyone benefits when students can complete college quicker and at a lower cost to them.

Subjects of Interest


Higher Education

Independent Schools


Student Persistence