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How Idaho Is Getting Ahead With Dual Credit: a Q and A

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Tuesday, January 31, 2017

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As part of Idaho’s goal to increase the number of citizens with a postsecondary degree or certificate by 2020, the state is prioritizing dual-credit programs that offer secondary students a chance to earn college credit while also working toward their high school diploma. We recently spoke to Dana Kelly and Carson Howell from the Idaho State Board of Education on Idaho’s approach and success in this area. This Q and A coincides with the release of a new REL Northwest report, “Getting Ahead With Dual Credit: Dual-Credit Participation, Outcomes, and Opportunities in Idaho.” See also our blog post from Education Northwest researchers Brandi Holten and Ashley Pierson, "Five Strategies for Maximizing the Potential of Dual-Credit Courses."

What can other states learn from Idaho’s approach to dual-credit programs?

Dana: The best thing a state can do is to not use a cookie-cutter approach. You really have to know your state, your strengths, and your limitations, then use that knowledge to create a program that is going to work for you.

Carson: I would add that dual-credit courses have always been a relatively inexpensive way to earn college credit, but even a low rate of $65 per credit in Idaho was still prohibitive to some students. The Idaho State Legislature recently appropriated funds toward a program that provides kids with funds that they can use to pay for advanced opportunities such as dual-credit courses. When we look back at trends in student enrollment in dual-credit courses over the last several years, we had already seen great growth, but since the new program started the number of kids taking dual-credit courses has really exploded.

What successes have you seen from your dual-credit programs?

Dana: One consequence we’ve seen is students who have managed to earn an associate’s degree while still in high school. The board has a goal to increase the number of students earning an associate’s degree upon graduating from high school, and dual credit is a key area to accomplish that goal. Also, while we still have work to do to ensure that underrepresented groups have the same opportunities as their peers, we’re really proud of our success in being able to provide dual-credit opportunities throughout our state.

Carson: The numbers of students who have earned an associate's degree while in high school has gone up more than 200 percent over the past few years, so we've seen tremendous growth in that. However, most of the growth we’re seeing is from kids who are taking one or two classes, so hopefully exposure to dual-credit classes is reaching down to underrepresented groups.

Idaho has a goal of 30 percent dual-credit participation. What's an example of a strategy that the Idaho State Board of Education is considering in order to reach that goal?

Dana: As Carson alluded to earlier, over the past two years Idaho students have generally had the opportunity to take dual-credit courses without needing to pay for tuition. However, we still need to work with our high schools and postsecondary institutions on ways to reduce other costs. With some courses, the cost of textbooks and lab fees can be really challenging for students. We don't have an answer for that yet, but we’re working on it.

Also, we’re reaching a critical need for high school teachers who are qualified to teach these college-level courses. That’s a strategy we’re looking at now: How can we maintain quality by getting educational resources to more teachers around the state, so that we can expand our offerings and keep up with our growth?

Carson: We have many rural and remote schools in Idaho, and trying to find qualified instructors to teach dual-credit courses in those schools can be difficult. One strategy we’re using is dual-credit online courses and programs such as Idaho Digital Learning.

How is Idaho addressing the need to enroll more underserved students in dual-credit courses?

Dana: We need to make sure we’re communicating the benefits of dual-credit courses, particularly to underserved students and their families. We also need to make sure that underserved students actually have equal access to those opportunities, whether in high school or through distance programs. Another promising approach is to work closely with our constituency education groups. For example, we’re working with the Indian Education Committee to identify barriers to dual-credit participation for Native students and to help us remove those barriers. Similarly, the Idaho Hispanic Commission has always been very interested in increasing educational opportunities around the state, and getting them to advocate on our behalf is a strategy we should consider.

Carson: Particularly for those who will be first-generation college students, it’s important to communicate that dual-credit courses can give you a taste of the college experience. In my experience, success in a dual-credit class can really boost the confidence of those students and show them that they’re capable of doing college-level work. From a REL Northwest study, we found that student passing rates in dual-credit classes in Idaho are right around 95 percent. That’s a positive message that we can capitalize on. We need to reiterate the message that they can do this and that it’s extremely valuable to bank those credits for college.

Final thoughts?

Dana: I’d like to highlight the dedicated college and university partners that really make this happen. They’ve been working with us for over 10 years to provide quality programs and to advocate for the participation of all students. They’re a big asset to our state.

Carson: In Idaho, roughly a quarter of all incoming freshmen are first-generation college students. If those students take two dual-credit classes and earn six college credits, they’re ahead of the game. In addition, that experience of passing a dual-credit class sends a powerful message to students who might otherwise think college is a big, scary thing. It’s a big win for them.

Dana Kelly is the Idaho State Board of Education’s student affairs program manager, and she works on dual-credit and advanced-opportunity programming.

Carson Howell serves as the director of research for the Idaho State Board of Education, specializing in data collection, analysis and reporting.