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  • Writer's pictureRogéair D. Purnell, PhD

What Equitable Dual Enrollment Means to Us and Why It Should Matter to You

Updated: Apr 30

By Rogeair Purnell, PhD and Diane Rodriguez-Kiino, PhD

April 1, 2024

As researchers exploring the impact of the Dual Enrollment for Equitable Completion (DE4EC) initiative, Diane and I regularly talk about why dual enrollment matters. But we recently found ourselves venturing into a conversation about why it uniquely matters to us. Discussing our own high school experiences in California and Texas, respectively, we discovered that we shared common perspectives on the importance of our timely exposure to higher education.

Long before dual enrollment became strategy for increasing college access and success, I took part in a math and science summer experience at Texas Southern University (TSU) as a rising 10th grader. And Diane participated in San Diego State University’s Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) summer bridge after high school graduation.


Each institution offered these programs as part of their broader, longstanding commitment to ensuring a higher education home for those often barred from this shot at economic and social mobility. TSU is one of the largest Historically Black

Colleges and Universities (HBCU) in the nation. San Diego State University (SDSU) is a Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI) with nearly 40% students of color. 

Dr. Etta Walker, a university administrator and computer science and physics professor, launched TSU’s summer bridge effort. Dr. Walker and her team were motivated to introduce youth in Houston’s historically Black Third Ward to the rigors of college and the opportunities associated with pursuing STEM majors and careers. 

At TSU, I sat at the same desks as other college students and walked the same halls. I felt supported to learn and do well and was inspired to continue my education after high school. I would eagerly arrive early each morning, excited to take classes taught by esteemed professors. With my Third Ward peers, I did my homework and hung out in the student union eating fries and drinking soda. I experienced what it could feel like to excel at college.

Meanwhile in California, Diane attended SDSU’s Summer Bridge just after 12th grade. She lived in first-year housing, shared a communal space with other recent high school graduates, and toured campus with upper-class EOP peer advisers. Through Summer Bridge, Diane completed six college credits—three units in psychology and three in math—and created a four-year education plan in consultation with her EOP adviser.

But perhaps more importantly, Diane’s experience taught her how to be in college, how to study and complete course assignments on time. It activated a love of learning and introduced her to the study of human behavior—what ultimately became the focus of her career. Summer Bridge put Diane on a path to college success.

Looking back, TSU’s and SDSU’s pre-college programs could be part of our current research agenda on dual enrollment, generally a term used to describe college coursework completed while in high school. And looking back, these personal experiences feel especially relevant to our current work with the Dual Enrollment for Equitable Completion initiative.

As DE4EC’s learning and [e]valuation partner, RDP Consulting is working to identify and elevate strategies that ensure dual enrollment access and success for underrepresented groups, specifically African American/Black, Latina/o/x, and economically disadvantaged students and communities. DE4EC supports 10 California community colleges and their high school partners: Berkeley City College, Compton College, Contra Costa College, Cuyamaca College, East Los Angeles College, Fresno City College, Gavilan College, Hartnell College, Madera Community College, and Skyline College

Supported through a collaboration of three funders, these partnerships were chosen in response to their commitment to increasing equitable dual enrollment access and success.

Equitable dual enrollment defined: African American/Black, Latina/o/x, and economically disadvantaged and other historically underrepresented college students’ access to and success in dual enrollment offerings is proportional to their numbers and success within the participating high schools/colleges/districts.

As two female children of color—I am Black American and Diane is Mexican American—higher education was a non-negotiable for our families. We both regularly received the message “you’re going to college” from our parents. And while we were both strong students, the specifics of how to get into college and thrive once there were less clear. 

Summer programs like the ones offered at TSU and SDSU meant that Diane and I had access to information and resources that would remove potential college admission barriers. For example, rigorous coursework that taught skills and knowledge needed for more advanced classes, tutoring to support earning good grades, and information on applying for scholarships and financial aid. 

Most importantly, we had access to college professors who looked like us and inspired us by sharing their postsecondary journeys. These faculty members were motivated to ensure Diane and I were successful and enthusiastic about investing in our futures. Our individual successes were their successes. 

The few short weeks as high school students enrolled at TSU and SDSU helped us grow in a number of ways. Through this experience, we both developed: 

  • Confidence in our ability to do well in school and complete college-level work

  • Clarity about the benefits of both secondary success and college completion

  • Exposure to possible fields of study and related careers

  • Comfort with being on the college campus 

  • Understanding of the academic, personal, and economic commitments college requires

  • Success skills, including how to schedule our time to be able to study, complete assignments, and prepare for tests

  • Learning to advocate for ourselves to ensure we receive the help and resources needed

  • Access to financial resources to cover college costs and make college feel financially attainable

  • Social capital developed as evidenced by relationships and networks to draw on as a college student for support and encouragement

Decades later, the impact of TSU and SDSU on our own journey shows up in DE4EC research, which underscores how access to college courses while attending high school supports postsecondary preparation and success for historically underrepresented students. Like our experiences, DE4EC partnerships: 

Recognize equitable dual enrollment is about disrupting the status quo so historically underrepresented and underserved students can take part and succeed. They make these student groups the priority population for their programs. They indicated they are motivated by the power and potential for equity-minded dual enrollment to facilitate mobility for students, families, and whole communities traditionally left out of economic and social opportunities. 

Demonstrate that equity-minded recruitment is central to opening the door to dual enrollment and building rapport with students and their families. They communicate, listen, and act in culturally responsive ways. They make dual enrollment information easily accessible to students in multiple languages, through different modalities, and in venues frequented by high-priority communities.

Design opportunities that welcome all students to college and put them on a path toward attainment of meaningful educational and career goals. This approach involves creating a holistic experience inclusive of both instruction and support and shifting partner practices to meet dual enrollment students where they are with what they need. 

As with our experiences, key features include college campus exposure and strategic selection of courses to introduce major and career options and give students a head start toward completion of degree and transfer requirements. It also involves student-centered instruction that recognizes the developmental needs of dual enrollment participants while maintaining rigor and high expectations. And, it includes proactive student support integrated into the standard student experience. 

Baseline outcomes heading into the launch of DE4EC indicate that students involved in equitable dual enrollment through initiative partners consistently outperformed their peers on multiple high school and community college success metrics. And, like Diane and me, students who participated in dual enrollment through DE4EC partnerships have confirmed these experiences helped them develop a sense of academic self-efficacy and advance their preparation for college success.

Diane and I know first-hand the transformative power of dual enrollment for those historically shut out of higher education. Our dual enrollment experiences have meaningfully and positively shaped our personal and professional lives. 

We are heartened by California’s strategic move to ensure EACH student participates in dual enrollment before high school graduation—as outlined in Vision 2023. No doubt, the example of DE4EC colleges and K12 partners can help lead the way.

To learn more about the DE4EC partnerships and how what we learned resonated with our own dual enrollment experiences, check out the resources below:

Advancing Equitable Dual Enrollment Initial Findings from the Dual Enrollment for Equitable Completion Initiative. 

Brief 3: Insights on Dual Enrollment Students’ Experiences. Dual Enrollment For Equitable Completion. 

Brief 5: Student Insights on How Dual Enrollment Helped Them Succeed in College.

Brief 6: Activating Dual Enrollment Partnerships for Equitable Student Opportunities.

And stay tuned for future blog posts that highlight additional findings and recommendations from our DE4EC learning and [e]valuation work and other relevant information, including:

  • The California state context for the move toward equitable dual enrollment 

  • Use of data and inquiry to support equitable dual enrollment design, delivery, and improvement 



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