Should I Enroll in College Courses as a High Schooler?

Dual enrollment programs allow high schoolers to take college courses or college-level courses, helping them prepare for the rigors of higher education while enabling them to earn college credits and high school credits simultaneously, depending on the program. They can help high schoolers demonstrate that they can meet the demands of a college curriculum and potentially save them costs on tuition.

 

There have been numerous reports and assessments on the success of these programs in the long run. Keep reading for a breakdown and analysis of this data — and find out whether you should participate.

 

Pros and Cons of Dual Enrollment Programs


Pros:

 

Correlation with higher likelihood of college attendance for first generation students

An American Educational Research Association analysis shows that participation in dual enrollment programs correlates with higher college degree completion rates, particularly among first generation students and those from low socioeconomic backgrounds. Among this population, the programs increase the likelihood of college attendance by 8% and bachelor’s degree completion by 7%.

 

Correlation with overall stronger student success outcomes

A study of students in the University of Texas System also found a higher likelihood of completing a bachelor’s degree, as well as higher ACT scores for dual-enrollment students compared with those who did not participate in these programs. 

 

The study’s authors note that this combined with other research on the topic suggests that students who participate are more likely to have higher GPAs, return for a second year of college, and graduate within six years than their peers who do not. (Note that there is some question about the statistical significance of some of the data points.)

 

Potential to save money on college tuition by graduating early

While the data doesn’t indicate that dual credit programs influence student loan debt, students with prior credit graduate one semester earlier than their peers, on average. Graduating a semester early saves an entire semester’s worth of tuition!

 

Equips students with essential college and life skills

Students who participated in dual credit programs generally praised the opportunity, according to the University of Texas System report. Many reported gaining important skills through the programs, such as time management, communicating with faculty, conducting research, critical thinking, and more. They also found the programs useful in helping them acclimate to a college setting.

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Cons:

 

Credits don’t always transfer

Each college has different policies for accepting dual enrollment credit, and some may not apply any credits earned towards graduation. This is especially the case for credits earned at technical colleges, which aren’t widely accepted at 4-year colleges. Be sure to tether your expectations of how your dual enrollment credit will apply. In general, the more prestigious the school, the less likely it is to accept dual enrollment credit.

 

Dual enrollment courses may not truly expose students to college academics

Overall, 34% of students took courses for postsecondary credit in high school, according to the United States Department of Education High School Longitudinal Study of 2009. Since so many students participate, many high schools try to make dual enrollment courses more accessible by offering some at the high schools themselves. 

 

In fact, the majority of students who have taken postsecondary classes do so at their high schools. Meanwhile, only 17% actually take courses on college campuses. If most courses are held at high schools, students won’t benefit from experiencing academics in a college setting. There is also some concern that dual enrollment courses held in high schools don’t match the rigor of a real college course. That said, dual enrollment classes taught in high schools are often much more convenient, saving transportation time and the hassle of coordinating rides.

 

The Bottom Line

 

Ultimately, the data does show correlation between taking postsecondary courses and stronger student outcomes. This suggests that dual enrollment better equips students for college-level work. It is undeniable, however, that students who participate in dual enrollment may be self-selecting; they could already be high-performing students more likely to complete a college degree, achieve higher GPAs, etc. Still, there are other clear advantages to dual enrollment programs: the potential to experience college courses, and to save money on college tuition by graduating early.

 

However, students should recognize the limitations of these programs, such as the lack of complete credit transfer and a potential difference in rigor between these courses compared with real college courses. 

 

To avoid disappointment, students who enroll in postsecondary courses should remember that even if they don’t receive credit, taking the most challenging classes available to them is a worthy endeavor that will help them build important college and real life skills.

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Laura Berlinsky-Schine
Senior Blogger at CollegeVine
Short bio
Laura Berlinsky-Schine is a graduate of Johns Hopkins University, where she majored in Creative Writing and minored in History. She lives in Brooklyn, New York and works as a freelance writer specializing in education. She dreams of having a dog.