Are College Tuitions For High School Students In Texas Worth It? Maybe not

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Update at 12:02 p.m. on July 27: This story has been updated to reflect comments from the study researcher.

A new study for the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board shows no dramatic gains for students who take college courses while in high school.

Texas students who take college courses while in high school earn post-secondary degrees at slightly higher rates than their peers, but the study says those from lower-income backgrounds who took dual-credit courses are less likely to graduate. .

Dual-credit courses have been touted by school administrators as a way to jump-start children’s college careers by saving them time and money. The goal is for students to earn college credits in high school, usually for free, allowing them to complete their studies more quickly.

But on Thursday, researchers released findings at the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board showing poor outcomes for students who took such courses: On average, they graduated about a month earlier, the equivalent of about a summer semester.

The researchers looked at student performance from 2001 to 2015. While the enrollment rate for students who went on to college was higher for those who took dual-credit courses, it was only about 2.4 percentage points higher than similar students who did not take such courses.

College completion rates were only about 1.1 percentage points higher for students taking these courses.

“I’m surprised,” said board chairman Stuart Stedman. “It is little.”

Dual credit was encouraged to offer economically disadvantaged students and students of color a chance to advance in their college education.

“The data collected suggests this is not the case,” said Raymund Paredes, the council’s higher education commissioner. “In fact, in some cases, it hurts low-income students in getting a graduate degree. We need to find out what’s going on there.”

Although not as dramatic as some would like, researcher Trey Miller said after presenting the results at the board meeting, the increases are significant and the study shows that students who have taken such courses in general achieved better results. On average, for every dollar invested in dual credit, the return was about $5 in benefits, such as increased student lifetime earnings, he said.

“Dual credit has been a huge benefit to the state and the average student taking dual credit,” Miller said. “But we need to make sure that students who take dual credit courses are adequately prepared to take them and that we do everything on the periphery to improve them.

The study is one of the most comprehensive studies on the impact of dual credit courses. It focused primarily on dual credit courses offered generally, such as by regular high schools or community colleges.

The study largely excluded offerings from early college high schools — specialty campuses designed with often rigorous academic sequences that typically put kids on track to earn an associate’s degree while in high school. Various studies have shown their positive impact.

The study found that the students most likely to benefit from dual credit courses were those most likely to succeed in college regardless: white students who don’t live in poverty.

Low-income and minority students were less likely to enroll in such courses, even though they make up the bulk of the public school population in Texas, largely because they had fewer access to opportunities that prepare them for the rigors of college, experts say. .

From 2001 to 2015, 10.6% of black students and 15.6% of Hispanic students took a dual-credit course during their junior or senior years, compared to 24.7% of white students.

The study showed that more black and Hispanic students attended two-year colleges if they had taken dual-credit courses, but found no significant effect on enrollment in four-year institutions or for a university degree.

Among students from low-income families, college participation after taking dual credit courses was 3.2 percentage points lower. Their college completion rate was 6.7 percentage points lower than that of students who were not from low-income families.

The report also flagged concerns about grade inflation as dual-credit courses have been significantly expanded across the state.

In 2015, the Legislature significantly relaxed restrictions on dual credit, such as eliminating limits on the number of dual credit courses a student can take and opening these courses to freshmen and second year.

And although more ninth and tenth graders took the classes, there was no significant drop in the overall rate of top marks in those grades. The study suggests that instructors may have lowered course standards to maintain pass rates.

For example, the study looked specifically at grades in basic math and English courses and found that after 2015 the distribution of A’s fell from 37.5% to 40.1% while those earning Bs or less have declined.

The most popular dual credit courses for high school juniors and seniors are usually part of the core offerings: English, Math, and History. Meanwhile, freshmen and sophomores tended to take classes where they weren’t necessarily required to show academic preparation, such as art appreciation, public speaking, or introduction to computer science.

One of the most significant results highlighted the need to better advise students on study plans. The explosion of dual credit offers has significantly complicated the transfer process between schools.

For example, a student can take an elective or even a core type of course that doesn’t play into their major, causing them to have extra credits that don’t work in their eventual study plan.

The study also revealed a wide variety in how students became eligible to take dual credit courses. Some school districts only allowed top-performing students to take them, while others encouraged as many students as possible to enroll despite their academic or emotional readiness.

And some high school counselors told researchers they end up doing the heavy lifting for students and families who don’t meet the paperwork required for dual credit deadlines.

“I don’t think we spend enough time talking to [students] about the maturity it requires, the attendance required, how it can negatively affect their college study plan if they have too many hours,” an advisor told the researchers.

American Institutes for Research consultants plan to collect public comment on the findings through August 27 and intend to present policy recommendations to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board in October.

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