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Taking College Classes in High School Keeps Low Income Kids on Track

A new study shows that blending high school and college work can help motivated students from disadvantaged backgrounds thrive.

Dual high school/college programs that shorten the time it takes to earn a high school diploma and let students earn up to two years of college credit for free are growing in popularity. But the programs have more benefits than just saving cash-strapped families money. A new study from California's Community College Resource Center says students from low-income communities who participate in dual programs reap significant academic benefits.

The three-year study looked at eight joint programs between 21 high schools and 10 colleges. Sixty percent of the students enrolled were from minority backgrounds and 40 percent came from homes where English isn’t the first language. They found that students who participate were more likely than their peers in the same school districts to graduate from high school and to go to a four-year college instead of a two-year community college. The researchers also found that once the students were enrolled on college, they needed to take fewer remedial classes and they were more likely to stay in school.

The researchers didn't specify why the programs have this effect, but it makes sense that these smaller, more challenging programs—which often have test score or grade eligibility requirements—naturally attract students that, despite coming from disadvantaged backgrounds, are highly motivated. It also makes sense that the explicit structure and personal attention that these programs provide keeps students on track and builds their confidence that they can tackle college-level work.

Given the positive effect the programs have on students, the researchers recommend several policies to make the initiatives consistent and easier to run. States need to ensure that all programs are academically strong, make clearer standards for how students can be eligible to participate, make the credit earned easy to transfer to any school, and ensure that the funding model for the programs keeps the participating institution from losing "any of its per-pupil funding for dually-enrolled students."

Photo via (cc) Flickr user TEDxTrondheim

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