After launching a statewide dual-credit policy and scholarship program in 2016, participation among Kentucky high school students soared by more than 75 percent in recent years, a study from the state’s Council on Postsecondary Education recently found.
Western Kentucky University stands as one of the biggest victors.
In the past year, WKU worked with 3,500 dual-credit students and 45 high schools throughout its region, said Beth Laves, the head of WKU’s Division of Extended Learning and Outreach, which oversees the university’s dual-credit program.
“We have exploded,” said Laves, noting that the state’s initiatives to expand access to the courses “drove our dual-credit program.”
“We grew by leaps and bounds since 2016,” she said.
Dual-credit programs allow high school students to enroll in college-level courses and earn academic and technical credit counting toward both high school and college completion, according to the Council on Postsecondary Education.
The study said more than 40,800 high school students enrolled in dual-credit courses at public and private schools during the 2019-20 academic year. That’s up from 23,300 students five years prior.
The study said participation rates have ticked upward since 2015.
In that same year, the Council on Postsecondary Education approved a dual-credit policy that enabled Kentucky high school students to access at least three general education and three career or technical dual-credit courses during their high school career. The policy took effect in 2016.
Kentucky also launched a dual-credit scholarship in 2016 supported by lottery proceeds that allowed high school juniors and seniors to complete two dual-credit courses at no personal cost. Later, Kentucky’s Work Ready scholarship for dual credit expanded that benefit in 2018 by offering two free career and technical education courses each year.
Those efforts seem to be paying off for universities, with the CPE study finding that dual-credit students were more likely to return to college for their second year and earn higher grades. (The study examined college freshmen who started school at one of Kentucky’s public, four-year universities. A report examining colleges in the Kentucky Community and Technical College System is in development, according to the CPE.)
The likelihood of dual-credit students earning a 3.0 or higher grade-point average in their first year of college, for example, is about 60% compared to about 50% for students who didn’t take dual credit, the study said.
Traditionally, the highest-achieving and more affluent high school students have gravitated toward dual-credit courses and the benefits they confer, but that’s changing, according to David Mahan, who directs the CPE’s data, research and analytics division.
In recent years, more lower-income high school students have taken advantage of dual-credit courses, Mahan said, but students of color are still not participating at the same rate as their white peers. That’s important, Mahan said, because low-income students and students of color seem to gain a greater benefit than their higher-achieving peers.
Many low-income or minority students are also first-generation college students, Mahan noted. (In the fall of 2019, more than a third of the university’s first-time, first-year students were estimated to be first-generation college students, according to WKU.)
“It often gives them the confidence that they can do college-level work,” Mahan said of the benefit dual credit bestows on those students. “Second, it gives them a pathway to think about where they’re going to enroll and what they’re going to study in college. Between those two things, it gives them the structure and the confidence that they need.”
– The full study can be read online at cpe.ky.gov.
– Follow education reporter Aaron Mudd on Twitter @BGDN_edbeat or visit bgdailynews.com.