Dual Credit and Unintended Consequences

With the dramatic expansion of dual credit programs in Texas and elsewhere, many educators have expressed concern about the rigor and quality of some courses, especially if the classes are “embedded” in the high school. However, another issue has to do with the demographic profile of students who participate in dual credit.

Please have a look at this article by Erik Gilbert, in The Chronicle of Higher Education. He is a professor of history at Arkansas State University, and reports that students who earn college credit while in high school tend to be white and relatively affluent. Even if colleges offer deeply discounted (or even free) tuition, ethnic minorities tend to take part in lower proportions.

The writer also cites evidence of declining enrollment in general education courses at universities, as so many students have already earned credit in high school. Furthermore, he notes that students in his introductory history class tend to be weaker academically than before, since students (and their parents) who are more interested and engaged often take as many dual credit courses as they can.

From the piece:

So concurrent enrollment has surged in popularity over the past decade. In Indiana the number of high-school students taking dual-enrollment classes in U.S. history jumped from 132 in 2005 to 3,800 in 2015. Unsurprisingly, enrollments in college U.S.-history survey courses in Indiana have dropped significantly.

In Texas, more than 100,000 high-school students took dual-enrollment courses in 2014. Of these students, 20,000 took the U.S.-history survey course. In Arkansas, 17,000 students enrolled in these courses in 2015, an 8.1-percent increase from 2014.

And whatever price middle-class students may pay academically for having done their first year of college in high school, the financial benefit to them is undeniable. Paying $200 for a course that would otherwise cost $1,000 is a bargain. Multiply that by 10 (it’s not uncommon now for students to arrive from high school with 30 credits), and they have paid $2,000 for a year of college that would have otherwise cost them $10,000. They have also saved the cost of room and board.


At least one study links lower income to a lack of participation in concurrent enrollment courses in Oregon. Data from Texas are broken down by race. African-American students there get a smaller percentage of their total college credits through concurrent courses than do white students. In 2016 white students got about 10 percent of their total credits from concurrent enrollment. For African-Americans, that proportion was about 5 percent.

The growth of concurrent enrollment means that for middle-class suburbanites, college is potentially one year shorter and thousands of dollars cheaper than it is for students of lesser means, who must spend more time in college and take on more debt to earn the same degree.

Whether this results in pervasive racial inequality may be hard to determine. If you take, say, South Texas College, the enrollment is mostly Hispanic, but STC is a major participant in dual credit. However, faculty members at community colleges often comment that dual credit siphons off stronger students, which means that less-prepared individuals enroll in traditional classes at the college after graduation from high school. Therefore, success rates at college campus courses could be affected negatively.