Listening to Student Voice: Improving Dual Credit Programs

Dual credit could be a game changer for high school students, who can earn college credits and work toward a postsecondary credential while still in high school.
The Takeaways

  • Students want their families to have more information about dual credit and post-secondary education. Students felt a disconnect between high school requirements and their plans after graduation. For them, families are an important piece in helping to achieve their dreams, and they want their school to better support their families’ understanding of the programs and options.
  • There is a need to build meaningful, reciprocal relationships between teachers and students. Student-teacher interactions built on trust and respect will help build student engagement.
  • Students primarily learned about dual credit from their peers. School administration should leverage student experiences and peer-to-peer interactions to educate students about dual credit courses.

Dual credit courses can provide students with better academic preparation, early exposure to rigorous curriculum, easier transition to college, significant savings in both money and time invested in college, and increased college retention and completion rates. Despite the benefits, research reveals that low-income, first-generation, Black, and Indigenous students, and Students of Color are underrepresented among students taking dual credit courses. Eisenhower High School in the Yakima Valley had a hunch that this was the case in their student population, specifically that Latinx students were underrepresented in their dual credit pathways.

Determined to better support their students, the administration at Eisenhower High School, using a grant from OSPI, reached out to Washington STEM to dig deep into their course-taking data to understand student outcomes in relation to dual credit course participation. The data analysis revealed equity gaps—underrepresentation of student populations in various types of dual credit courses. But both the administration and the research team knew that the data alone didn’t tell the full story. Through a series of interviews, in which students were asked about their dual credit experiences and plans after high school, the team leveraged student voices and wisdom to build a whole new story—one in which students had real interest in taking dual credit courses, advice for how to better support their participation in those courses, and high hopes for their own educational futures.

Student feedback from the study provided vital insight into their experiences and aspirations.

Aspirations are one of the recurring themes across the student interviews. While students may not always have the institutional knowledge to achieve their post-high school goals, they are undeniably experts in their hopes in dreams. Students interviewed at Eisenhower High School, regardless of their demographic groups, each had high aspirations for their educational futures. And these hopes, dreams, and education plans could benefit from participation in dual credit programs.

In response, Eisenhower will overhaul and expand their advisory period, which will be renamed “College and Career Readiness” period, to focus on post-high school education options and readiness for even more students.

Another recurring theme from the student interviews was academic rigor. Students shared their course-taking experiences and revealed the differences in rigor and support between dual credit courses and non-dual credit courses. Far from avoiding more demanding classwork, students said they welcomed the more challenging work in dual credit classes. They believed that all courses should uphold a high standard of rigor. Challenging courses helped them to gain confidence in their abilities to be successful in higher education environments. Students in all grade levels, regardless of whether they were taking dual credit classes or not, wanted to be challenged.

Overall, the student interviews painted a clear picture of youth who want to learn, want to be challenged, and want to continue their education beyond high school. Their collective expertise and lived experiences provided Eisenhower High School with a lot of advice to improve dual credit classes, advising, and participation.

Read more about the Dual Credit project at Eisenhower High School in our feature “Developing Equitable Dual Credit Experiences”.