Every year, thousands of high school students participate in dual enrollment—courses that allow students to take college classes and earn college credit. “Dual enrollment can be an effective means for improving the educational outcomes for a broad range of students, including those who struggle academically or who are at risk of dropping out,” PPIC researcher Daniel Payares-Montoya said in a recent joint presentation with PPIC researcher Iwunze Ugo.
This fiscal year, California is investing $100 million to expand College and Career Access Pathways (CCAP), a program that partners community colleges and K–12 districts in expanding dual enrollment to historically underserved students.
Dual enrollment programs may help reduce the rates of high school dropouts and may help raise the numbers of community college students transferring and completing a degree. With CCAP, courses are held on a high school campus, exclusively for high school students, during the school day, and at no cost to their families. That is, CCAP helps address some of the logistical and cost concerns that may have prevented some students from pursuing dual enrollment.
Since the program’s inception, CCAP enrollments have grown fivefold, and these numbers reflect relative equity in terms of representation. For example, the share of Latino CCAP students closely mirrors the share of Latino students in California high schools. Numbers for Black CCAP students and male CCAP students, however, need improvement.
Within one year of graduating from high school, just under a third of CCAP students enroll directly at a four-year college, while just over half enroll at a community college—much higher rates than the statewide average for high school graduates. Most CCAP students who matriculate at a California community college enroll where they took their CCAP courses, suggesting that CCAP may serve as a strong recruiting tool.
But while CCAP students usually perform better academically in college than students who never participated in a dual enrollment program, they tend to perform slightly worse than students from other dual enrollment programs. CCAP students also obtain associate degrees or certificates at higher rates than nondual enrollees, but, again, at lower rates than other dual enrollees.
Interviews with CCAP representatives from 13 community colleges helped PPIC gain insight into efforts that had made the CCAP program a success and areas where the program still faced challenges.
“One of the highest-performing colleges we interviewed indicated that offering a student success course was key to their program’s results,” Iwunze Ugo said. Student success courses bundle academic, behavioral, and personal supports into one course that helps students develop time management and study skills, explore majors and careers, and understand long-term planning. However, the courses are not always transferable to the state’s four-year universities.
College resources such as tutoring and counseling also help students prepare for and later navigate college, but because CCAP programs are delivered at the high school, the school and college must make a deliberate effort to ensure that students have access to available college supports. “Recent investments in online tools can help on this measure,” Ugo said, pointing to counseling over Zoom and asynchronous lectures as examples.
Ultimately, the success of CCAP relies on coordination and integration between high schools and colleges. Strong communication and clarity are needed on both sides, to develop the courses colleges require for credit and transfer and to understand the programs high school students need to succeed and remain engaged.