The percentage of California high school seniors who have enrolled in a community college course is significantly higher than previously reported and is also higher than the national average, according to a new study from Wheelhouse, the Center for Community College Leadership and Research.

The Wheelhouse research brief, published in January, found that 12.6% of high school students in California enroll in a community college course; the national average is 11%. 

Previous estimates placed California’s numbers below the national number. Those studies, however, underestimated dual enrollment participation because they were hampered by the lack of integrated data systems connecting information from K-12 to higher education. The new study for the first time matches data sets to provide a clearer picture of college course-taking among California’s high school seniors in the 2016-17 school year, the most recent cohort for which data sets from both high schools and community colleges were available.

But while more students than previously believed are involved in dual enrollment programs, access is far from equal. Participation among high school students by race and the socioeconomic disadvantaged varies widely. Some 18.5% of Asian students take part in dual enrollment programs, more than double the 8.8% participation rate of African-American students. Participation rates were measured at 13.9% among white students; 10.9% among Latino students; and 10.8 percent among the socioeconomically disadvantaged.

Eighty-two percent of California’s high schools have no students enrolled in community college courses.

Dual enrollment allows for a high school student to simultaneously earn high school and college credits through the same community college class. Its popularity has been buffeted by the growing College and Career Access Pathways Program, authorized by Assembly Bill 288 in 2015 and extended until 2027 by Assembly Bill 30 in 2019, where students can take community college courses without having to leave their high school campus. Also popular are programs allowing high school students to take some college courses on a college campus, and middle college high schools that are located on community college campuses and allow students to take college courses concurrently with high school courses but don’t necessarily receive dual credit.

Study after study shows students completing dual enrollment courses are more likely than others to graduate high school and earn a college degree. Ivan Yalda was, at the age of 18, the youngest graduate in Cuyamaca College’s Class of 2019 thanks to the abundance of dual enrollment courses he took at  nearby Valhalla High School.

“The only thing I regret is not taking even more dual enrollment classes when I was in high school,” Yalda said. All of which is why dual enrollment is becoming even more popular and is seen as a critical tool in realizing the Vision for Success by significantly decreasing the average number of units accumulated by community college students earning associate degrees and by reducing tuition costs.

“Dual enrollment partnerships,” states the language in Assembly Bill 30, create “clear pathways of aligned, sequenced coursework that would allow students to more easily and successfully transition to for-credit, college-level coursework leading to an associate degree, transfer to the University of California or the California State University, or to a program leading to a career technical education credential or certificate.”

Justin Narvaez racked up more than 20 units of college credit at San Diego Mesa High School while still enrolled at Kearny High School just a few blocks away. He graduated in June and is now a psychology major at San Diego State University. “It’s very beneficial for any student to have an opportunity for dual enrollment because it gives you a head start on your college education and gets you acclimated to the college-level curriculum,” said Narvaez. “I’m ahead on my credits and I have a lot of prerequisites out of the way.”