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Forks in the Pathway? Mapping the Conditional Effects of Dual Enrollment by Gender, First-Generation Status, and Pre-college Academic Achievement on First-Year Student Engagement and Grades in College


At no other time in the history of American higher education have so many students aspired to earn a college degree. Lamentably, attrition rates have remained stagnant over the past decade with a large proportion of student departures occurring during or immediately after the first year. Fundamental disconnects between the K-12 and higher education sectors have been blamed for large numbers of students arriving to college unprepared to face the academic and normative challenges that await them. In response, educational researchers and policymakers have called for enhanced academic pathways that bridge the gap between educational sectors and allow students to not only enroll, but succeed, in college. Dual enrollment, a course-taking arrangement whereby high school students enroll in college courses and in most cases earn college credit for them, is the fastest-growing academic pathway today. Yet, empirical data in support of this pathway is limited.

The purpose of this study was to explore the impact of dual enrollment course participation on first-year student engagement and college grades. Drawing from student engagement literature and theory, student engagement was considered across four key measures: active and collaborative learning, student-faculty interaction, educationally enriching experiences, and perceptions of a supportive campus environment. In particular, the effects of dual enrollment were examined both in the aggregate and with respect to potential differences by gender, first-generation status, and pre-college academic achievement. Using national longitudinal data from surveys administered by Indiana University's Center for Postsecondary Research (CPR), a quasi-experimental research design was applied via propensity score analysis techniques to determine the unbiased effect of dual enrollment course participation on the study's five first-year outcomes.

The findings and conclusions from this study suggest that dual enrollment does have a positive impact on students in the aggregate and offers comparatively greater benefits to male and first-generation students. Specifically, a main effect was found in dual enrollment's impact on student-faculty interaction for all students. Male students tended to experience more strongly positive impacts in active and collaborative learning, student-faculty interaction, and perceptions of a supportive campus environment. First-generation students received greater benefits with respect to educationally enriching experiences and first-year grades. In light of these findings, implications for practice and policy related to the dual enrollment academic pathway are considered.

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