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New Insights on Dual Enrollment Students From the Survey of Community College Outcomes

Regional Matters
December 21, 2023

Dual enrollment programs exist for high school students to take college-level coursework, earn college credit, and sometimes even a credential or degree, prior to graduating high school. These programs are different from other alternatives such as Advanced Placement (AP) or International Baccalaureate (IB). First, dual enrollment is offered through a higher education institution, such as a community college. Second, these students receive college credit for a course if they receive a certain grade. AP and IB courses can lead to college credit, but only if the student gets a passing grade on an exam, regardless of the grade they receive in the course.

The number of high school students enrolled at community colleges appears to have grown significantly over the past decade, based on enrollment data by age. However, there is very little publicly available data about dual enrollment students. In an attempt to fill this and other information gaps about community colleges, the Richmond Fed started the Survey of Community College Outcomes. In our extended pilot, we surveyed 63 institutions in the Fifth District and asked them to provide data on levels of dual enrollment, demographic composition, and successful credit attainment for these students. These new data shed light on how community colleges serve high school students, while also contributing to a more complete picture of community college success.

Current Levels of Dual Enrollment

Based on our survey results, dual enrollment students account for 14 to 22 percent of credit enrollment across the states that responded (Maryland, South Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia). At the institution level, dual enrollment students make up between 8 and 48 percent of credit enrollment.

The community colleges with the highest shares of dual enrollment students tend to be in rural areas. Our data show that, on average, dual enrollment students comprise 27 percent of credit enrollment at rural institutions compared to 17 percent at urban institutions. Our conversations with rural community colleges shed light on some reasons: Rural school districts may find it difficult to attract qualified teachers for AP or IB courses, or the schools may find it hard to get enough interested students for AP or IB classes. Therefore, rural community colleges have a greater need to support local K-12 school districts and provide high-performing high school students with other college credit-bearing options.

There is also evidence that policy around funding plays an important role in the number of high school students engaged in dual enrollment programs. Polices range from the state fully funding dual enrollment via appropriations (e.g., North Carolina) to the state providing very little funding to students or institutions beyond appropriations for full-time equivalent enrollment (e.g., Virginia). In states where dual enrollment is not fully funded via appropriations, community colleges and school districts must decide how much of the costs to bear themselves. In South Carolina, for example, high school students can take courses tuition free at some community colleges but must pay tuition at others. It is clear from our survey data that South Carolina institutions with tuition free dual enrollment tend to have a higher share of dual enrollment students. (See chart below.)

Demographic Composition of Dual Enrollment

When looking at the demographic composition of dual enrollment students, they are more likely to be White and Asian than non-dual enrollment students. (See chart below.) The lack of diversity in dual enrollment is a well-known critique of these programs. Through our outreach, institutions have told us that making these programs more diverse is a high priority.

That said, there are institutions in our survey that have similar racial and ethnic compositions across dual enrollment and non-dual enrollment students. This could be from efforts to increase access, better funding for diverse student groups, or better communication about these programs. A topic of future research will be discovering what is driving these differences.

Student Success

When looking at students' success (i.e., passing a course), we see that dual enrollment students are generally attaining attempted credits at a high rate. (See chart below.) In most cases, credit attainment rates for dual enrollment students are higher than non-dual enrollment students. We also see that students at rural institutions have very similar credit attainment rates to those at urban institutions.

High rates of credit attainment are unsurprising: Students who are enrolled in dual enrollment programs tend to be relatively high-achieving high school students. Dual enrollment programs also tend to have stricter admission requirements compared to the open admissions policies that are in place for non-dual enrollment students at most community colleges. These high credit attainment rates translate to institutions awarding a significant amount of associate degrees and other credit-bearing credentials to high school students. The 63 colleges in our survey reported awarding about 3,500 degrees and credentials to their dual enrollment students during the 2021-2022 academic year.


The Richmond Fed's Survey of Community College Outcomes aims to help fill information gaps about the students that community colleges serve, including high school students in dual enrollment programs. We see that dual enrollment students account for a significant portion of credit enrollment across states in our region, especially at rural community colleges. We also observe that dual enrollment students are more successful in attaining credits than non-dual enrollment students, though dual enrollment students also tend to be less diverse. With these insights, we can provide a fuller picture of community colleges' role in the education ecosystem.

Views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond or the Federal Reserve System.

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