A professional development program for schools serving high-need and minority students, created by a partnership led by the National Center for Restructuring Education, Schools & Teaching (NCREST) at Teachers College, has significantly improved students’ success in dual enrollment college courses, according to preliminary results of an independent study conducted by researchers at the University of North Carolina.

NCREST leads the STEM Early College Expansion Partnership (SECEP), which includes Jobs for the Future (JFF) and the Middle College National Consortium (MCNC). SECEP is offering the professional development program in four Michigan school districts and in Bridgeport, Connecticut. Through professional development of educators, the program aims to expand opportunities to take college (dual enrollment) courses while in high school, while also encouraging high quality STEM instruction.

Elisabeth Barnett

Elisabeth Barnett

Elisabeth Barnett, Associate Director of the National Center for Education, Schools and Teaching (NCREST), directs the STEM Early College Expansion Project (SECEP)

A study of the first three years of the five-year project shows “statistically significant positive results, which is highly unusual,” said Jacqueline Ancess, Co-Director of NCREST. The independent study, an external evaluation conducted by SERVE at the University of North Carolina at Greenville, provides feedback to project leadership as well as information widely relevant to policy-makers and practitioners.

The study found that students in high schools participating in SECEP earned an average of 2.4 college credits in dual enrollment courses taken on college campuses, nearly twice the 1.2 credits earned by students in non-SECEP schools with similar demographic characteristics. Nearly 24 percent of 11th and 12th grade students in the SECEP schools earned at least one college credit (up from 7 percent in the year before the study), compared with 15 percent in schools that were not in the program.

High school students in dual enrollment programs can take college-level courses for credit toward both high school and college degrees. The dual enrollment courses were found to be more effective for earning college credits than Advanced Placement high school classes, for which students can earn college credit if they score high enough on a national exam.

Surveys at participating schools found that teachers were incorporating college readiness skills into their instruction, and using more rigorous instruction and project-based learning techniques. The survey also showed improvements in overall school performance, including college-going expectations.

NCREST, along with MCNC and JFF, was awarded a $12 million federal innovation grant in 2013 to design and implement a program for schools in Michigan and Connecticut aimed at boosting enrollment of high-need and minority students in the STEM disciplines and in early college courses.

The program is designed to “promote participation in college course-taking, plus develop stronger college-going culture, and to get students more interested in STEM,” Barnett said. It was also designed “to get teachers more engaged in using project-based, active learning modalities in STEM instruction.”

Previous studies by NCREST and the Community College Research Center (CCRC), also at Teachers College, have shown that early college programs, in which high school students take college-level courses for college credit, can improve academic success for underprepared and disadvantaged students in college. They are also more likely to enroll in postsecondary institutions and attain a postsecondary credential. 

The SECEP program was designed to test whether supports for leaders and teachers could help produce the same results for underserved students in early college programs in the STEM fields, where they are under-represented.

The preliminary results were not all positive. Although overall participation in early college programs has risen, minority and disadvantaged students continue to participate at lower rates than white and non-disadvantaged students. Only 10 percent of minority students and 16 percent of economically disadvantaged students participated in dual enrollment courses, compared with participation by 27 percent of nonminority and 29 percent of non-disadvantaged students, the study found.

SECEP schools had lower (but not significantly different) dropout rates than comparison schools.

Researchers are studying 22,000 students across 14 school districts in the Genesee, Washtenaw, Delta-Schoolcraft and Lapeer County Intermediate School Districts in Michigan; and Bridgeport, Connecticut. The early results, however, were only from the Michigan districts. So far, SECEP has trained 365 teachers and conducted 600 coaching sessions with teachers.

Teacher training was provided by Teachers College faculty members Christopher Emdin, Associate Professor of Science Education; Erica Walker, Clifford Brewster Upton Professor of Mathematical Education; and Ellen Meier, Professor of Practice and Director of TC’s Center for School Change and Technology, as well as other leaders in STEM education.