Study: Arkansas Unique In Narrow Achievement Gap Among High And Low Income Dual Enrollment Students

Oct 23, 2017

A high school student participates in an early college course at University of Arkansas Pulaski Technical College.

A national study by the Community College Research Center at Columbia University reports that programs in Arkansas that let high school students take college-level classes through their local community college appear to be doing a good job of benefiting people of all incomes.

These programs are known as "dual enrollment" programs and aim to serve those of all demographics and not just wealthier students advanced in their studies. But, John Fink of the Community College Research Center says while many states showed big disparities in credential completion rates between lower and higher income students, that has not been the case in Arkansas.

Fink says his study shows about the same number of lower and higher income dual enrollment students in the state who start at a community college go on to complete some type of college credential.

"I think this is important because one of the goals of dual enrollment programs is to expand access to higher education and get more people started on college early. Although nationally we saw some gaps by income, we're not seeing that as much in Arkansas for students who went to community college first. So I think that's remarkable that Arkansas has a smaller gap," said Fink. 

In Arkansas, among students who started at a community college and completed a college credential, 48% were lower income while 49% were higher income. The gap was a little wider for those starting at four-year colleges: 49% were lower income while 55% were higher income.

Nationally, among students who started at a community college and completed a college credential, 43% were lower income while 50% were higher income. The gap was much wider for those starting at four-year colleges, with 58% coming from a lower income household and 71% from a higher income household.

The study tracked some 200,000 high school students for six years, from 2010 to 2016. Using student enrollment and degree records from the National Student Clearinghouse, the report looked at state-by-state data on where dual enrollment students are going to college and whether they end up getting a degree.

The report notes that the number of students taking college courses while they are in high school has grown dramatically over the past two decades in Arkansas and around the country, particularly at community colleges, but that many colleges and states do not track participants' outcomes. Fink says that in Arkansas the number of dual enrollment students has jumped from 1,700 in 1995 to 10,000 in 2015. 

Other Notable Insights

Income data aside, the state-by-state analysis tracking the success of dual enrollment programs in Arkansas shows the state is in line with national averages on many fronts. 

Fink says in Arkansas, the number of dual enrollment students who started at community colleges was 46% and that 40% started at a four-year college. The national average was 47% and 41% respectively. 

Of the students who started at a community college, 46% went on to obtain a college credential compared to 54% of those who started at a 4-year school. The national average was 46% and 64%.

The study also shows about 16% of all new community college students in Arkansas were in high school, similar to the national average of 15%.