Good news about dual-credit courses from Minnesota Department of Education / Joe Nathan’s Column

Joe Nathan

Young people like Sam, Jennifer and Khalique are reflected in a recent, encouraging report from the Minnesota Department of Education. They are among the hundreds of youngsters I’ve met over the past few years who used Minnesota’s dual-credit courses (for high school and college). A new study from MDE presents statistics showing the dramatic, positive statewide impact that these programs are having.

The MDE report examines the 2012-13 school year. Researchers found that compared to overall high school graduation rates, there were notably higher high school graduation rates for students who took at least one Postsecondary Enrollment Options course on a college campus or concurrent enrollment course on their high school campus.

For example, compare these statistics (rounded to the whole number): 58 percent of African Americans overall graduated high school in four years, but 88 percent of those who took a dual-credit course graduated in four years.

Similarly, here are percentages for other groups: American Indian, 49 (percent graduated overall) and 88 (percent of dual-credit students who graduated); Asian Pacific, 78 and 96; Hispanic, 59 and 93; white 85 and 98, low-income, 64 and 93, English language learners, 59 and 89; and students with disabilities, 58 and 84.

Dramatic differences, right?

Some people have reacted to this information by saying that it reflects the fact that the most academically talented, college-bound students are taking dual-enrollment courses. But growing research and experience show that virtually all students can do well in at least one dual-enrollment course, whether it’s in an academic or technical field.

The center where I work has spent three years working with schools serving mostly students from low-income, and often single-parent, families. The foundations of Otto Bremer; Frey Family; Robins, Kaplan, Miller and Ciresi; St. Paul; and Travelers, along with Tom and Marlene Kayser, made this possible. Working with terrific urban district and charter public school teachers, we helped produce triple-digit increases in dual-credit enrollment. Equally important, more than 70 percent of the students who enrolled in these courses did well enough to earn college credit. You can hear from three of these young people in brief 60- to 70-second videos, here:

Research by Teachers College, Columbia University in New York City concluded, “Males, low-income and low-achieving high school students all appear to benefit from participation in dual-enrollment to a greater extent than their dual-enrollment peers who enter college courses with more social, economic and educational advantages.”

There’s no single strategy that will eliminate Minnesota’s largest achievement gap. But high school students like Sam, Jennifer and Khalique have spoken eloquently about the huge difference in their lives that earning college credit made.

As Khalique explains in the video, when asked how he feels about earning college credit, “I was pleased and surprised.” Researchers are calling the impact of dual credit on such students “academic momentum.” They are saying that a positive attitude and a belief in themselves are every bit as important as strong skills.

Fortunately there’s growing interest in encouraging a much broader array of students to take dual-credit courses. The new MDE statistics show why this is good for students.


Joe Nathan, formerly a Minnesota public school teacher, administrator and PTA president, directs the Center for School Change. Reactions are welcome, please comment below.