Developing Equitable Dual Credit Experiences

A Washington STEM partnership with Eisenhower High School and OSPI to create a scalable approach to improving equity in dual credit programs


Dual Credit courses provide students with opportunities to earn high school and college credit at the same time. They can be course or exam based and there are a wide variety of options available.

In 2020, Gabe Stotz, College and Career Manager at Eisenhower High School in Yakima, became curious about the dual credit opportunities available to Eisenhower students. He and others had a strong hunch that the school’s dual credit courses were not equitably accessed by the large and diverse student population, but he didn’t have concrete data or information to identify enrollment and completion patterns for course offerings at Eisenhower.

Washington STEM, having previously partnered with the Eisenhower team and the South Central STEM Network on the “To and Through” project, an advising program designed to increase postsecondary credential attainment, was well-positioned to provide technical expertise needed to evaluate Eisenhower’s dual credit course enrollment. Stotz, with support from a OSPI Building Equitable, Sustainable Dual Credit grant, reached out to Washington STEM to partner on a quick but thorough deep dive into dual credit at the school.

Why focus on Dual Credit?

Dual credit options provide students with opportunities to earn high school and college credit simultaneously. This can come in the form of a course itself, or by earning a passing score on an exam. Availability of courses, student costs, and wraparound supports (e.g., transportation and funds for materials and testing) all depend on what the district or school is able to offer. Available statewide data show that enrollment in dual credit courses is not equitable along lines of race, income, gender, or geography.

We also know that enrolling in dual credit is beneficial because it often reduces the time and money required to complete a 2-year or 4-year degree, can help students build a college-going identity and confidence, and is associated with a higher likelihood of enrolling in post-secondary education.

By 2030, 70% of high-demand, family-wage jobs in Washington will require postsecondary degree credentials, so it’s vitally important that we support and improve credential attainment, particularly for Black, Brown, Indigenous, rural, and low-income students. Dual credit is a key lever we can push in order to attain our goals to ensure Washington students are career- and future-ready.

The Data

“In dual credit the teachers hold you to a completely different standard than normal classes. It makes the class a lot more challenging when you’re striving for a goal.”
—Latinx/White, Male, 12th grader

To kick off the project, Washington STEM’s team needed clear baseline data. Our team worked with Stotz to analyze course-taking data from the past five years—there were 68 data points per student! The data came from the district itself—information such as student demographic data and course enrollment—as well as from the National Student Clearinghouse, which tells school and district staff where and when students enroll in postsecondary education and when they complete postsecondary. Looking across this data revealed patterns in high school enrollment, as well as the extent to which dual credit offerings impacted postsecondary enrollment and completion.

Early data takeaways:

  • Eisenhower students who were enrolled in dual credit—especially Advanced Placement and College in the High School—were entering and completing their postsecondary pathways at a greater rate than students not taking any dual credit coursework.
  • The data showed strong patterns along demographic lines, pointing to significant barriers to dual credit course access, enrollment, and completion for male Latinx students.

Student Engagement

To further understand students’ experiences and perceptions in different dual credit options, we worked with Eisenhower to interview a representative selection of students about their experiences and perceptions. We learned more details about how and where specifically students receive information and guidance about dual credit and postsecondary options, their aspirations for postsecondary education, and their experiences in dual credit if they were enrolled. We also asked students to wave their “magic wand” and describe what changes they’d like to see to better support their postsecondary transition and planning.

Here’s what we heard:

  • Students want their families to have more information about dual credit and post-secondary education options.
  • Meaningful, reciprocal relationships between teachers and students, with interactions built on trust and respect, can improve student engagement.
  • Older students and peers were a significant source of student information about dual credit.

Staff Engagement

“[A]ctually talk to us and build relationships with us. When you build relationships, you actually want to learn what they’re teaching. You actually want to know what they’re telling you because you respect them.”
—White, Female, 12th grader

While the data was compelling in and of itself, we knew that the root causes of these course-taking patterns were likely rooted in practices and policies at the school level, as well as educators’ and students’ knowledge and perception of the different options.

Early in the project, the entire school staff engaged as critical partners in understanding the patterns showing up in the data. With key support from the principal, Stotz, and the Washington STEM team, we shared what we learned from the data and collaborated with teachers for more input.

In order to uncover some of the root causes of the inconsistencies in enrollment and completion of dual credit courses, we engaged both the staff and the students in short surveys. The staff survey asked about their familiarity with available dual credit options, if/how they offer guidance on postsecondary planning, perceptions of student enrollment in dual credit, and perceptions of student aspirations. The student survey asked about their experiences in dual credit and college/career readiness.

Some key findings from these surveys include:

  • Teaching staff are the primary source for information about dual credit for students (not counselors).
  • 50% of teaching staff reported not being comfortable providing dual credit guidance.
  • Older students and peers were another significant source of information about dual credit.

With strong support from the principal, this data was shared with the whole staff over the course of several all-staff meetings. Staff were invited to think with the project team about how to address some of these discrepancies.

The Future

As for Washington STEM, we’re developing an Equitable Dual Credit Toolkit in partnership with Eisenhower staff and our partners at OSPI. This toolkit is designed to help practitioners dig into dual credit questions including: What differences exist by race, gender, English language learner status, grade point average, and other student characteristics for participation in dual credit? What trends exist for postsecondary participation in correlation with participation or non-participation in dual credit coursework? What are students’ experiences in accessing and completing dual credit courses?

Next Steps

Equipped with the data from the study, the Eisenhower team can begin to change problematic patterns in access, enrollment, and transcription of dual credit for students. For example:

  • In 2021-2022, 11th and 12th graders will lead student panels on their dual credit experiences for 9th and 10th graders.
  • As part of a school-wide professional development day for teaching staff in the Fall 2021, college and career staff will lead a half-day session on dual credit to increase teachers’ capacity to advise and guide students.
  • The Eisenhower team will support another high school in the district to conduct the same dual credit inquiry in order to improve postsecondary outcomes for their students.

Our goal in the next 6-12 months is to develop a strategy, and corresponding technical support, that allows us to build capacity with our partners to make the kind of informed local changes that the Eisenhower team is tackling. Given our relationships with STEM networks, the WSAC-led Dual Credit Task Force and state agencies, we see an opportunity to leverage this work to advocate for statewide policies that increase equitable access, enrollment, and completion of dual credit—getting to the heart of what Washington STEM cares about: systems change.

Read more about student Dual Credit experiences at Eisenhower High School in our feature “Listening to Student Voice: Improving Dual Credit Programs”.

Further Reading:
Education Commission of the States: Increasing Student Access and Success in Dual Enrollment Programs: 13 Model State-Level Policy Components, 2014; An, 2012; Hoffman, et. al 2009; Grubb, Scott, Good, 2017; Hoffman, 2003.