A group of students walk up and down a staircase at Knox County High School.

A new report from the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education showed the number of Kentucky high school students enrolling in dual credit courses has soared more than 75% in recent years, helping to improve grades and shore up college persistence, particularly among low-income students. The report measured the impact of dual credit on student success at the state’s public, four-year universities
Photo by Amy Wallot, Oct. 29, 2010

The number of Kentucky high school students enrolling in dual credit courses has soared more than 75% in recent years, helping to improve grades and shore up college persistence, particularly among low-income students.

Those findings are part of a new report – released Sept. 1– from the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education, which measured the impact of dual credit on student success at the state’s public, four-year universities. It is the first comprehensive study on the topic since Kentucky launched a statewide dual credit policy and scholarship program in 2016 to improve participation.

“The results are clear. Students are eager for innovative opportunities like dual credit, and our educators are doing incredible work to meet that demand,” said Gov. Andy Beshear. “I want to thank our high schools and postsecondary institutions for their dedication to this effort, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic when they’ve had to adapt faster than ever before.”

CPE President Aaron Thompson also praised the work of educators, adding that dual credit provides an important tool to smooth the transition to higher education, while also increasing affordability and helping close achievement gaps in Kentucky.

“These programs are a valuable pathway for thousands of high school students to acclimate and progress to college-level work each year,” Thompson said. “We want students to enter college with confidence and thrive in the classroom, and I’m excited that our commitment to dual credit opportunities is paying off.”

Dual credit programs enable high school students to enroll in college courses and receive simultaneous academic or technical credit that counts toward both high school and college completion.

Today’s report reveals that more than 40,800 high school students enrolled in dual credit courses at both public and private institutions in the 2019-20 academic year, up from 23,300 five years prior. The study also found that dual credit students were more likely to continue college for a second year and earn higher grades.

For instance, the likelihood of dual credit students earning a 3.0 GPA or higher in their first year is approximately 60%, compared to 50.8% for students without a dual credit experience, a difference of 9.2 percentage points.

Some of the biggest gains were among low-income students; the effect of dual credit on second-year persistence was twice as high for low-income participants than for higher income participants.

Among non-minority, low-income students, participation increased second-year persistence by 9.3 percentage points. In addition, non-minority, low-income participants were 11.1 percentage points more likely to earn a 3.0 GPA or higher in their first year, compared to non-participants.

Among underrepresented minority, low-income students, participation increased second year persistence by over 8 percentage points, and the likelihood of earning a 3.0 GPA or higher in their first year also increased by over 8 percentage points. 

A dual credit experience also had a slightly greater effect on the second-year persistence for underrepresented minority students, compared to white and Asian students.

“The Kentucky Department of Education and the Kentucky Board of Education have been long-time supporters of offering dual credit opportunities to the Commonwealth’s students,” said Interim Commissioner of Education Kevin. C. Brown. “Seeing how those opportunities provide such an advantage to our low-income students is particularly gratifying. We must continue to provide as many opportunities as we can for all of Kentucky’s youth – regardless of their race, tax bracket or zip code – to learn the skills they will need to pursue their dreams.”

The study builds on research from across the nation, which has shown that dual credit leads to positive outcomes for students at all levels. That includes increased enrollment and degree production, better academic performance, reduced tuition costs and enhanced effects for less advantaged students.

Kentucky has sought to harness those advantages in recent years, implementing two initiatives in 2016 that have helped grow participation.

The first, a statewide dual credit policy, calls for high school students to have access to at least three general education and three career or technical dual credit courses. It also provides guiding principles and evidence-based practices to support and maintain the accessibility, quality, transferability and affordability of dual credit programs.

The second, a dual credit scholarship, allows high school juniors or seniors the chance to earn credit for two college courses at no cost. The effort expanded in 2018 with the Work Ready Kentucky Dual Credit Scholarship, permitting students to complete two additional career and technical education courses per year in high-demand fields.

Today’s study recommends Kentucky undertake additional steps to increase access to dual credit opportunities, including an even stronger collaborative outreach to middle and high school students, particularly those in low-income and minority groups.

Other recommendations include ensuring dual credit courses are accessible during the school day and providing additional financial assistance to help low-income students cover costs.

“These are concrete, data-driven policies that could help us expand on our tremendous progress so far,” said Jie “Grace” Dai, the study’s lead author and researcher. “The numbers indicate that, with the right resources and investment, Kentucky is poised for even bigger gains and more positive outcomes.”

The outcomes presented in the report included Kentucky high school students who enrolled in dual credit courses through a Kentucky public or private college or university and subsequently enrolled at a Kentucky four-year public university after graduation. CPE is planning a second report to examine the effects of dual credit on postsecondary outcomes of dual credit students enrolled at campuses in the Kentucky Community and Technical College System.

The report can be accessed on the council’s website.

An overview video is available at https://youtu.be/sNmFU9jKGos.

The dual credit dashboard can be accessed at the Council’s Data Center

The Council on Postsecondary Education is leading efforts to get more Kentuckians more highly educated. By 2030, at least 60% of working-age adults in Kentucky will need to have earned a postsecondary education degree or credential to meet expected workforce demands.