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Getting a head start

New report finds taking college credit coursework in high school is linked to postsecondary outcomes

-Messenger photo by Michaela Frerichs
Students head to their classes on the first day of the Fall 2021 semester at Iowa Central Community College. About one third of ICCC students get a head start on college courses while in high school.

Students who take college credit courses in high school are more likely to enroll in postsecondary education after graduation and earn a degree or credential, according to a new Iowa Department of Education report.

In the state’s first longitudinal look at joint enrollment cohort data, the Outcomes of Jointly Enrolled Students in Iowa report tracks 29,000 high school graduates from the class of 2011 over an eight-year period. It compares postsecondary enrollment and completion rates of students who jointly enrolled in community college credit courses while in high school and students who did not.

Stacy Mentzer, vice president of instruction at Iowa Central Community College in Fort Dodge said they see evidence that supports this study at ICCC.

According to Mentzer, currently about one-third of their students enroll at ICCC with some college credits earned while in high school.

Jolene Hays, one of the school counselors at Fort Dodge Senior High School, said there are a wide variety of college courses available to FDSH students.

“We offer college-level courses taught in our building ranging from college-level English and math to college-level cooking and auto mechanics,” Hays said.

Mentzer and Hays agreed that taking college courses while in high school offer a large array of benefits.

“Some that come to mind immediately are: you can try different courses to identify your interests, you can complete program courses and shorten the length of time you actually have to attend college, you can see what it’s like to take a college level course, you can experience the expectations associated with a college level course to help prepare you for being a full time college student, help you choose a career, and there is no cost to the student/parent,” said Mentzer.

Hays added, “I would encourage students to take a few different courses to help them decide what they are interested in. We are lucky to have the opportunity to offer a variety of courses so that students can gain deeper knowledge in a topic they may enjoy.”

Mentzer said she feels if high school students have the opportunity to take college courses in high school, they should definitely explore that option.

“I would tell students to try new courses and really focus on finding something that they enjoy. I would also tell students that these courses are not for everyone and you should visit with your school about the opportunities through Iowa Central Community College,” she said.

“Earning college credit while in high school benefits students in so many ways,” said Ann Lebo, director of the Iowa Department of Education. “While we had a record number of jointly enrolled students during the 2019-20 academic year, we still have work to do. Closing the gap and ensuring all high school students take advantage of these opportunities will help more students explore career paths and experience the rigor of college-level courses, putting them on a path for success in both college and careers.”

Out of the 17,508 high school students from the class of 2011 who earned college credit in high school, 75.5 percent enrolled in college immediately after graduating, and of those, 59.1 percent achieved a degree within eight years. In comparison, 50.4 percent of students who did not earn college credit in high school immediately enrolled in college. Of those, 32.8 percent completed a degree or transferred during the same time frame.

Student participation in joint enrollment in Iowa schools has experienced an average annual growth rate of 5.8 percent since 2004, although participation differs by district. In total, 51,800 students were jointly enrolled during the 2019-20 school year. These opportunities play an important role in helping build Iowa’s talent pipeline for the careers of today and tomorrow, which is key to the Future Ready Iowa initiative that calls for 70 percent of Iowans having education or training beyond high school by 2025.

Metrics for the study on joint enrollment were collected from Iowa’s 15 community colleges. Additional report highlights from the graduating class of 2011 include:

60.4%: The percentage of students who earned college credit while in high school.

15,316: The number of jointly enrolled students who enrolled in postsecondary education within eight years of high school graduation, compared to 7,698 students who graduated high school without earning any college credit.

8.8%: The percentage of all jointly enrolled students who were of a racial or ethnic minority. In comparison, minority students made up 11.5 percent of the total student population from the graduating class of 2011.

11.2: The average number of credit hours earned by jointly enrolled students while in high school, which represents a potential savings of $1,474 per student.

3.7 years: The average length of time to complete a postsecondary award for jointly enrolled students compared to 4.0 years for students who enrolled in college without having earned college credit while in high school.

Future research will look further into equity gaps in joint enrollment participation, whether joint enrollment course type impacts enrollment and completion rates and if earning a postsecondary award while in high school impacts further postsecondary education and employment decisions.

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