How can we get high school students who feel shut out from higher education to even consider applying to college? One way is to enroll them directly in a college-level course while still in high school. That’s what we’re learning through newly imagined dual enrollment partnerships between high schools and colleges. 

Typically, dual enrollment math programs are seen as another form of advanced placement, reserved only for those students deemed “accelerated” or who are already on a path to college. And in many districts, racial participation gaps between White students and their Black and Latino peers persist. Over the past several years, however, Carnegie Math Pathways has collaborated with educators to make dual enrollment math programs more equitable by expanding eligibility to enroll and making course content more relevant and engaging to high school students.

Throughout these experiences, we’ve learned important lessons that could help you design or rethink your dual enrollment math program to create more equitable opportunities for students to attend and succeed in college. Below, we outline just some of our learning, shared during a recent webinar hosted by Transforming Post-Secondary Education in Mathematics (TPSE).

Dual enrollment math content can be more than algebra and calculus

Although an increasing number of colleges, if not most, offer alternative math pathways such as statistics or quantitative reasoning, many dual enrollment math programs are still reserved for students on a path to calculus. But imagine how many more students could discover their potential to succeed in college if they could choose from more math options than just algebra.

Consider Fremont High School in California. At Fremont, two years of math are required for graduation, but three are required for admission to California universities. Because failure rates in Algebra II, Fremont’s third-year math offering, were so high, students were not earning enough math credits to qualify for local college admission. And its reputation discouraged students from even enrolling in Algebra II. 

To give students more options to choose from and encourage them to continue their math education, Fremont implemented a dual enrollment math program with statistical reasoning content using Statway. This led to greater enrollment in third-year math and more students earning college math credit while still in high school. By offering topics other than algebra, statistical and quantitative reasoning courses like Statway and Quantway can appeal to students who previously thought college was out of reach, and even help them get ahead in their college-level math studies. 

We must build students’ identities as college students both in and out of the classroom

Students who haven’t considered college as an option or hadn’t considered themselves as potential college students generally have much to learn about the expectations and requirements of the college setting. It is incumbent upon us as educators to clearly communicate course expectations, norms, and grading requirements and make content and pedagogy inclusive. Further, the entire system built around a dual enrollment program—advising and placement, for example—needs to be ready for students who may not be comfortable or familiar with the college registration process and may not have anyone to assist them with it.

Both the in-class environment and out-of-classroom supports are crucial to building students’ identity as college students and their self-confidence and self-efficacy as math learners.

Anticipate and prepare for the administrative planning of your dual enrollment program

Even with the most dedicated high school and college administrators working together to increase college access and success, policy and bureaucracy can get in the way. We have encountered two common challenges in this arena. The first is cost. Even if the course itself is paid for, student materials may not be. In many cases, this has left institutions scrambling to find grant funding to pay for student materials. It is important to consider cost at the outset of a dual enrollment program, and it is vital to aim for a program that comes at no cost to students. This is an issue that goes beyond what individual educators and administrators can undertake on their own and needs to be addressed at the state policy level. Ample research, such as The Dual Enrollment Playbook, can help you make the case to your school district leaders or state representatives to support you with lowering costs to students for dual enrollment programs.

The second is the decision about whether high school or college instructors should teach the course and where. College instructors may not have experience teaching high school students and may not be paid to participate in activities outside of instruction, such as coordinating with the high school teacher. Meanwhile, having high school students on college campuses may expose them to the college experience but transportation obstacles can dramatically reduce participation for many of the students we’re trying to reach. There are many approaches schools can take. At Fremont, the dual enrollment course is taught at the high school by a math teacher who is also an adjunct faculty at the partner college. 

* * *

While we can tell students repeatedly that they’re capable of going to and succeeding in college, the dual enrollment experience can show them they can. We can appeal to students’ interests with real-world curricula. We can support them in and out of the classroom to meet college-level expectations. And we can work behind the scenes to ensure that the program’s administrative aspects—like where to teach a dual enrollment class—are designed to support student success. 

A carefully designed dual enrollment program can show students who’ve never dreamed of attending college, let alone succeeding in that setting, that they are capable of doing just that. The ripple effects could be transformative—more equitable access to college, more diversity at college campuses, and more educated citizens.