High School Dual Credit CTE Courses: A Key to Student Success

By Allen Phelps, University of Wisconsin-Madison, June 5, 2017


In 2015, dual credit or concurrent enrollment courses were available to high school students in 47 states -- usually those in the 11th or 12th grade, according to the Education Commission of the States. Forty-four states also include dual credit career and technical education (CTE) courses for secondary students. Increasingly, dual credit offerings are part of the post high school career and college pathway options for all students. Wider access to college credit learning in high school provides an excellent opportunity to: get an early jump on starting college, save on tuition, and explore various programs of study.  At the same time, it is important to consider the short and long-term benefits of completing high school CTE dual credit courses.  


Because the evidence on high school CTE dual credit courses is limited, at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, we undertook a longitudinal study of 2,300 high school students who entered a Wisconsin technical college. Fox Valley Technical College (FVTC) in Appleton, WI serves many dual enrollees. Supported by the National Science Foundation (Project #1104226), this analysis included recent graduates (classes of 2008-10) from 20 local high schools choosing to enter FVTC. The goal of this study was to highlight the benefits and tradeoffs of expanding dual credit courses and early career pathway opportunities to high school juniors and seniors. In Wisconsin, nearly 1 in 5 (17–18 percent) high school graduates pursues a technical college pathway following high school graduation (A. Westrich, personal communication, June 15, 2015).


For the graduates from these 20 high schools (n=2,295), nearly 30 percent of those who attended FVTC had completed, on average, six dual credits (two to three courses) in high school. We used information from the state longitudinal data system and college transcripts to follow these students for five years. Specifically, we were interested in the different outcomes for students who did and did not complete dual credit CTE courses. Using a 95 percent confidence interval, the linear and logistical regression models documented a powerful pattern of positive outcomes. For example, the dual credit completers were more likely than their peers to experience significantly higher rates of early college success and retention, graduate within three years, and have higher rates of employment and earnings at age 22. As indicated in Figure 1, high school dual credit earners who graduated within three years held a $4,354 earnings advantage (28.9 percent higher) at age 22, compared to graduates from the same schools, but who attended FVTC without dual credit, and left early for jobs and/or to continue college elsewhere.


Unlike other studies, this analysis also considered a number of individual and school factors that predict student achievement beyond high school (e.g., students’ placement test scores, gender, race, high school size and diversity, etc.). This more robust analysis of CTE student success also documented other key, actionable factors. Student success rates were higher for students who enrolled directly in college after graduation, as well as for those who completed summer college courses after their freshman year. Interestingly, high school dual credit courses taught at the high school by college-certified high school

CTE instructors consistently produced higher levels of student success than dual credit courses offered on campus. Clearly, dual credit CTE courses can help to establish academic momentum—a foundation for early college and career success. In addition, deep analysis of longitudinal data can provide specific evidence-driven recommendations for students, parents, counselors and educators as they look for the best course of action in planning school-to-college-to-workplace transitions.





Phelps, L.A. (2016, April). Optimizing postsecondary learning options for young adults. Techniques. 
Education Commission of the States. (2017).  50 state comparison: Dual credit concurrent enrollment policies. Retrieved April 18, 2017 at http://www.ecs.org/dual-concurrent-enrollment-policies/

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