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The Mixed Methods Blog
The Mixed Methods Blog

How Does Access to Dual Enrollment and Advanced Placement Vary by Race and Gender Across States?

Last fall, CCRC released a report with state-by-state findings on outcomes for dual enrollment students after they graduate from high school. But what do we know about high school students’ access to dual enrollment opportunities in the first place—and how does it compare with their access to other college “acceleration” opportunities, such as Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) courses?

The interactive tool below displays state-level findings on access to dual enrollment and AP courses, drawing on recently released data from the Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC). By clicking on each state, you examine the gaps in access to these opportunities within that state. For data definitions and methodology, see the "Data Notes" section below.

High School Student Participation in Dual Enrollment and Advanced Placement, 2015–16 School Year

Click on a state for state-specific subgroup detail

The 2015–16 CRDC data provide a new entrée into questions about access to dual enrollment and other opportunities for high school students to gain exposure to college-level coursework, since for the first time, they include the number of dual enrollment participants at each public school in the United States. These new data allow us to compare participation in dual enrollment, AP, IB, and other college preparatory classes such as calculus, biology, and physics. And since the data are broken down by race and gender, researchers can also look at whether college acceleration opportunities are equally accessible to all students.

Two major reports, one by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and one by ExcelinEd, have recently done just that. Linking the CRDC data to school characteristics from the Common Core Data, these reports explore what types of schools are more or less likely to offer college acceleration programs. Perhaps not surprisingly, they reveal clear patterns of inequity in access to dual enrollment and AP programs.

The GAO report compared pre-college offerings at high- and low-poverty schools (as measured by the percentage of students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch); at urban, suburban, and rural schools; and by school size. The ExcelinEd report also examined which types of schools offer these acceleration opportunities, with an additional focus on schools with high and low enrollments of students of color. (Interestingly, the definition of what counts as a high school in these reports differs quite a bit: GAO analyzed data on 14,111 high schools, and ExcelinEd analyzed data on 29,716 public schools. For more on identifying eligible high schools, see the "Data Notes" section below.) Both reports found troubling gaps in access to acceleration opportunities for students at high-minority and high-poverty high schools.

But those likely are not the only gaps in access. Even within schools that offer opportunities for college acceleration, there may be inequitable access by race and gender. And, given the varied approaches to implementing college acceleration opportunities by state, it is particularly important to examine cross-state variation in overall participation and gaps in access to dual enrollment and AP.

To help form a more complete picture of access to college acceleration opportunities, CCRC has begun an analysis of CRDC data that is similar to those of the GAO and ExcelinEd but examines equity in access to college acceleration opportunities both across and within schools. (We are grateful for the thought partnership of Adam Lowe and Alijah O’Connor from the National Alliance for Concurrent Enrollment Partnerships, who have been integral in thinking through our initial methodology and data definitions for this analysis.)

As shown in the interactive tool above, in the 2015–16 school year, 8 percent of high school students participated in dual enrollment, and 19 percent participated in AP. Participation rates were higher for White, female, and Asian (AP) students, and both overall participation rates and racial and gender gaps varied substantially by state. One important caveat is that the definition of dual enrollment in the CRDC data is very broad and includes many different types of dual enrollment.

The CRDC data enable insight into the equitability of access to college acceleration opportunities, and this first look at access by state raises questions for further research. For instance:

  • What state policies or district/school characteristics are associated with more equitable access to college acceleration opportunities?
  • How equitably is access distributed geographically within states?
  • Are inequities in access explained more by whether schools offer these opportunities or by gaps in participation within schools that do?

CCRC will continue to investigate these and other questions, using the CRDC data to provide national context for in-depth research in two states to examine how to strengthen the benefits of college acceleration opportunities specifically for students of color and lower income high school students.

Data Notes

Rates of participation in dual enrollment and AP courses were derived from school-level reports to the CRDC for the 2015–16 school year. CCRC worked with the National Alliance for Concurrent Enrollment Partnerships in developing the following methodology for estimating state-level participation rates in dual enrollment and AP.

We define high schools as schools that offer 11th or 12th grade. Researchers linked CRDC data to Common Core Data to identify eligible high schools by excluding elementary and middle schools as well as special education, alternative, virtual, and juvenile justice schools. In total, 18,675 schools were identified as high schools. About a quarter (27 percent) of these schools offer grades below 8th grade, and we sought to exclude students in grades 8 and below from the denominator for dual enrollment and AP participation rates. Furthermore, this type of school is unequally distributed across states; for instance, some states have more secondary schools that combine middle and high school. In order to avoid underestimating participation rates in certain states because of this issue, we linked the CRDC data to Common Core Data to adjust the participation rate denominators for this subset of schools to reflect a better estimate of their 9th–12th grade enrollment. (We describe this procedure in a technical memo.)

Students were counted as participating in AP if they took at least one AP course. The CRDC uses a broad definition of participation in a dual enrollment program, including all “opportunities for high schools students to take college-level courses offered by colleges, and earn concurrent credit toward a high school diploma and a college degree while still in high school.”

The CRDC is a biennial survey of all public schools and school districts in the United States. The data collection for the 2015–16 school year targeted 17,370 districts and 96,440 schools, with 99.8 percent of districts certifying their submitted data. For more information, visit https://ocrdata.ed.gov/DataNotes

Our team would especially like to thank Adam Lowe and Alijah O’Connor at National Alliance for Concurrent Enrollment Partnerships for their contributions to the methodology and data definitions.

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