Building purposeful pathways through college- and career-connected dual enrollment

Students snip wires for a boat-building project.

Hello colleagues,

This stat wowed me: There were 1.5 million dual enrollment students in 2021—3 times more than there were in 2001

  • Community colleges continue to lead, offering over 70% of dual enrollment courses. 
  • This is a boon for community college enrollments: This year, 1 in 5 community college enrollees are high school students. 

All of this is good news: When done well, dual enrollment helps all students—especially those who otherwise may not have gone to college—build momentum toward higher ed and a career. But all too often, dual enrollment fails to reach the students who stand to benefit most or ladder up to a strong next step.

Our partners at the Community College Research Center (CCRC) at Columbia have explored what exemplary institutions are doing with dual enrollment and published their thinking on dual enrollment equity pathways”—AKA “DEEP.”

A little history: Decades ago, community colleges took on Guided Pathways as a framework to reform their institutions to better serve students. At its core, Guided Pathways is all about connecting students to programs and helping them get and stay on track with clear program maps and redesigned advising. Now, leaders at community colleges are taking those ideas to their partners in K-12 to make dual enrollment an effective, equitable on-ramp to college—specifically, to programs of study that lead to good jobs. 

Here are some ideas from CCRC’s work that stuck with me:

  • What if dual enrollment was automatic? Hialeah Gardens High School in Florida is experimenting with embedding dual enrollment courses (and professional certifications) as the default in students’ four-year plans. This could solve for lack of awareness, a common barrier to uptake of dual enrollment, especially for first-generation students.
  • Another Guided Pathways innovation is student success courses, classes that community college students take early in their journey to create academic plans and explore career options. Some DEEP leaders are encouraging (or requiring) that dual enrollment students take these courses and use them to define how their dual enrollment courses will connect to what comes next.
  • When we talk about pathways, there’s always a tension between structure and flexibility, guarantees and exploration. We love clear pathways—but we know that exploration is important. Partners in the DEEP report activated advisors and instructors to help students see all the many possibilities that their dual enrollment coursework opens up, from industry credentials to college degrees.

There are so many great things about dual enrollment—one I think we don’t talk about enough is the partnerships that it can foster between colleges and K-12; across communities and families. 

We are eager to see what’s next.

As we look to the future, I have some news to share: After over 12 productive years at the Gates Foundation, I will be transitioning to a new role as President of the Valhalla Foundation

It’s a bittersweet change, but I am so excited to work with Valhalla to deliver on their mission to improve academic—and life!—outcomes for children, particularly low-income and children of color, across the country.

Patrick Methvin, the director of our postsecondary strategy, will be stepping in to lead the pathways work in the interim. I am excited to see this work continue to evolve as we learn more about what works to connect all students to purposeful pathways. 

Thank you,

Sara Allan
Director, Early Learning and Pathways
Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Go DEEP on Dual Enrollment with CCRC

Rethinking Dual Enrollment as an Equitable On-Ramp to a Career-Path College Degree Program After High School: A guide to this new way of thinking about dual enrollment and the research behind it.

DEEP Insights: Redesigning Dual Enrollment as a Purposeful Pathway to College and Career Opportunity: Examples from college-K-12 partnerships across the country, reflection on the use of Guided Pathways practices to rethink dual enrollment, and leadership strategies for building DEEP partnerships.

Open now: Dual Enrollment Research Fund RFP

This new fund (supported in part by the foundation) will grant at least $1 million to support research that expands and deepens the body of knowledge and evidence about dual enrollment as a tool for increasing college access and success. The RFP is open now, and there will be an informational webinar on November 7.

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