Three studies by American Institutes for Research find that one type of dual-enrollment program, Early College High Schools, has long-lasting and positive impacts on postsecondary enrollment with a strong return on investment.
Early College students had an 84% college attendance rate within six years compared to 77% of students who didn't attend an early college school. In addition, 21% of participants earned a bachelor’s degree within four years compared to 11% of those who didn’t, and the gap narrowed after six years to 30% versus 25%.
The Early College model requires more resources than traditional high school — around $3,800 more per student than a traditional high school — but lifetime earnings per student are estimated at around $33,709 more than those not participating in the program.
The research, conducted over nine years, shows the Early College program has a $57,682 return on investment per $3,800 spent, with participants also having been shown to provide a public benefit of $23,973 per student over a lifetime due to increased tax revenue and less reliance on public service.
The studies are designed to help education stakeholders make decisions as to how to prepare students for college and career readiness, create a positive school culture and reduce economic barriers to postsecondary education.
But the benefits aren't reaching everyone. While dual enrollment classes offer a college pathway, fewer Latinx, African-American and socioeconomically disadvantaged students participated. A Policy Analysis for California Education study found students do not have equal access to dual enrollment opportunities, with about 12.6% of California high school seniors taking dual enrollment classes in 2016-17, and few coming from underrepresented populations.
First-generation college students may also benefit from dual enrollment programs. About one-third of undergraduate students are first-generation college students, but that group is only half as likely to complete college than those who have a college-graduate parent. To narrow this gap, the Impact Academy of Arts and Technology in California takes students on college field trips and provides instruction on topics such as college financing and accessing academic resources on campus.
Not everyone buys into the value of dual enrollment, however. In Texas, student enrollment in these programs grew from 80,000 in 2008 to 151,000 in 2018. However, a report presented to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board found the programs did little to increase the rate of college enrollment and performance. Minority and low-income students were more likely to have trouble with college work.