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Early College and Dual Enrollment in 2022: Broader Reach and Deeper Impact

Posted on: January 18, 2023

By Russ Olwell, Ambar Tavarez and Cindy Santana

Broader Reach: Dual Enrollment and Early College Enrollment Gains

    Early College and Dual Enrollment programs have made a notable difference in college enrollments during the pandemic and in the post-pandemic recovery. During the pandemic, dual enrollment and early college provided a bright spot for secondary students; existing programs allowed students something of a buffer from pandemic enrollment declines and grade slippage. The most recent National Clearing House Report (data available at https://nscresearchcenter.org/stay-informed/) indicates that Dual Enrollment and Early College programs were among the only programs enrolling more college students (over 12% percent increase at public 2-year institutions), while many other areas of enrollment (traditional age college and adults) continued to skid or stagnate. 
    Dual Enrollment and Early College are not new, and the evidence base behind them is solid. They have demonstrated success at raising high school achievement, college grades, college graduation and lowering time to degree, when these students are compared to matched peers. They are particularly effective for first-generation and low-income students, and many programs have shown remarkable success working with students of color, particularly Black and Latinx students. 
    Given the declines in students who identify as Latinx or Black in college enrollment this Fall, reaching these students in high school, and giving them the opportunity to earn college credits is a critical part of post-pandemic educational recovery. Over the past decade, newer early college and dual enrollment programs have embraced equity as a key ingredient in early college programming, and some states have made equitable access – in terms of ethnicity/race, gender, special education status and language learner status, central to the approval and renewal processes. With the right guardrails in place, early college and dual enrollment programs can reach the students who need them most, and can have a positive impact on college-going.

Deeper Impact: Getting Early College Students on Campus for Summer STEM Research
 For the first time this past summer, the state of Massachusetts offered early college programs at universities the chance to host students for research projects, with funding offered for credits, materials, meals, transportation and other expenses. This funding of early college students helps boost the diversity of the STEM pipeline in Massachusetts, where the early college student population in more diverse in terms of race/ethnicity, gender and economic status than their peers statewide. Dr. Michael Piatelli, a long-time biology faculty member in the early college program with Lawrence High School (A high-needs school), opened his laboratory to two high school students and two undergraduate peer mentors for July.
            Summer research allowed the students a much more personal experience with faculty, and also gave them a much stronger set of skills to apply to their future work. Early college students, while they found the 11th grade college biology class interesting, felt part of a crowd during the experience. In the laboratory over the summer, the process of getting to know faculty and colleagues was much more organic, and students left the experience feeling that the college STEM environment would be supportive of their ambitions.
            The pace of summer research (4 days per week, 4-5 hours per day) gave students a chance to solidify key laboratory skills (such as pipetting, microscopy, and gel electrophoresis), to conduct experiments and projects with a great deal of autonomy, and allowed them a strong sense of responsibility for conducting and reporting on experiments. All students reported feeling much more confident about reading and using scientific literature, and were able to read journal articles by the end of the summer that would have been incomprehensible before the program.
    This kind of deeper programming requires dedicated funding, whether from states or from other funders. Given the promise of research experiences for our early college students, this field seems a key area for investment for the summer of 2023.
Looking Forward to Early College and Dual Enrollment in 2023

 Challenges remain in the field, such as the challenging economics of running a sustainable program, and the politics of long-term state and school district support remain challenges for programming. The pool of people available to work as staff and as instructors in early college programs continues to limit program growth. Despite those challenges, 2023 seems poised to be an important year for early college and dual enrollment programs, as enrollment growth, and access to high impact practices promise to boost recognition of the field and its impact.

Early College Summer Biology Researchers

Early College Summer Biology Researchers