Post-secondary education

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Background of the Problem

Post-secondary education is facing many problems today. One of the most significant issues is that students are not prepared for the academic demands of college, which can lead to dissatisfaction, poor grades and non-completion. Nationally, academic preparedness is deficient (Moore, 2006). Idaho has witnessed this problem and is working to overcome the challenges (Idaho State Board of Education, 2009). College enrollment of young adults in Idaho has seen a slight drop since 1990. In comparison with national averages, a relatively fewer number of young adults in Idaho are enrolled in postsecondary education. Moreover, only 43% of those who matriculate to college are able to successfully complete an undergraduate degree within a period of six years (National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, 2008). One program post-secondary institutions have embraced in Idaho is dual enrollment, a program that encourages high school students to attend college courses concurrent with high school courses for high school and college credit, also known as dual credit. This study will attempt to examine the effectiveness of the dual enrollment program in Idaho, specifically if participating in dual enrollment affects a student's first year college GPA, and retention.

Statement of the Problem

The problem being studied is the mixed findings on the effectiveness of dual enrollment programs in influencing college success among first-time college students. Dual enrollment has been thought of as a viable way to reduce high school drop outs and increase college enrollments. Benefits of the dual enrollment programs are supplementing the curriculum of high schools with college courses (Jacobson, 2005), and exposure to the rigors of college while in high school creates a more successful college student. Despite the presence of outcome studies, too little is known about how dual credit enrolment affects college outcomes among those who matriculate first time to college. This study will attempt to examine the effectiveness of the dual enrollment program in Idaho, specifically, if participating in a dual enrollment program correlates with a student's first year college GPA and retention.

Significance of the Study

This study contributes to the lack of literature on dual credit programs and their impact of college success. The purpose of this study is to determine whether participation in dual enrollment courses in high school affects the academic experiences of first-time freshen.

Institutions now encourage students to co-enroll in postsecondary institutions for credits. In fact, dual credit courses are among the most popular educational programs today. The benefits of dual credit enrollment are well-established in institutional literature. The main benefit of dual credit enrollment is that high school students has a higher likelihood of matriculating into college immediately after high school graduation and towards successful completion of a postsecondary degree.

Institutions will benefit from this study because it will provide data that could inform practice and implementation of dual credit programs. School administrators can be more adequately informed of how outcomes of dual credit courses are mediated by variables such as gender, ethnicity or socioeconomic status. The data from this study can be used to inform decisions related to how dual credit programs can be made more effective. This could provide basis for changes in the design or implementation of dual credit programs to become more accessible and more conducive for all.

Literature Review

In response to what was widely perceived as the failure of American education to produce competitive students ready to participate in the global economy, programs such as the dual-credit enrollment of high school students were conceived (Adelman, 2006). Dual-credit refers to courses offered to high school students “who receive college credit and credit toward secondary school graduation with the same courses” (Marshall & Andrews, 2002, p. 237). The promises of dual-credit programs explain its wide application in the educational setting. Dual-credit enrollment programs are available in 47 states across the United States today. Various studies have shown that high schools have been actively running dual-credit courses since the last five years; 71% of all public high schools are offering dual-credit programs while around 10-30% of high school juniors and seniors have obtained college credit among states supporting dual-credit programs (Hoffman, 2005). Dual-credit courses are designed to complement the high school curriculum in order to provide 1) a smooth transition to postsecondary education, 2) a less expensive college education by accelerating the completion of the degree, and c) create a highly skilled and trained American workplace which can compete globally (Smith, 2007).

Aside from the above-mentioned benefits, proponents of dual-credit programs believe that more importantly, dual-credit programs enhance the academic success of high school students once they matriculate to postsecondary education (Karp et al., 2007; Smith, 2007). Those who advocate for dual-credit programs make the assumption that taking college courses in advance make better-prepared and therefore, more successful college students in the future. Unfortunately, extant literature review on dual-credit enrollment is too sparse to support these assertions. What is known to us in terms of empirical studies show the results of studies are inconclusive at best.

Dual-credit enrollment and postsecondary success

There are too few outcome studies conducted on dual-credit programs to support the positive claims of its proponents.

Feedback and perception studies have been made to reveal that high school students enrolled in dual-credit programs have positive reactions towards dual-credit courses. Those surveyed stated they were happy with the quality of instruction and found dual-credit courses more engaging than regular high school subjects (Andrews, 2004).

An institutional study by Monroe Community College (2003) concluded that dual credit improved participating students' college readiness. In a comparative longitudinal study, the researchers found that dual credit students acquired higher placement scores in reading that were those who did not complete dual credit courses. Data obtained in 2001 revealed that more than a third (35%) of dual credit students got scores below 80% for reading compared to 40% among non dual credit students. Despite this positive result, the study suffered from methodological limitations. Without controlling for other variables, it cannot be empirically established that dual-credit enrollment was the most influential variable that influenced higher placement scores.

Studies have also suggested that dual credit enrollment leads to higher college retention. Dual credit students successfully completed more college credits than students who did not participate in dual credit courses or who completed more college hours (Nitzke, 2002).

A handful of quantitative studies suggest that dual-credit enrollment may be predictive of successful college outcomes. In a comprehensive study by Karp et al. (2007), it was found that dual enrollment students who matriculate to college for the first semester were more likely to persist in college until a second semester; the likelihood was greater for CTE dual enrollment students. Within two years of college enrollment, dual credit students' cumulative GPAs were significantly higher than students who did not complete dual-credit courses.

Eimers and Mullen (2003) found that students who matriculated to college for the first time and had dual credits in high school were more academically prepared than first-time students without dual credits completed. Moreover, dual credit students were found to have significantly higher ACT scores and higher high school ranks than non dual credit students.

Bailey and Karp (2003) conducted a literature review study to determine whether or not there is significant evidence establishing the influence of dual credit courses on academic success of high school students as they matriculate to college. In reviewing 45 reports and articles related to dual enrollment, the authors found that few outcomes studies have been made to suggest that dual credit hours are predictive of postsecondary success. Many of these studies were feedback and institutional studies which did not control for confounding variables such as motivation, high school GPA, and student demographic characteristics such as gender, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status.

Another exhaustive literature review study by Kim (2005) mirrored the findings in Bailey and Karp (2003). Evidence suggesting the positive influence of dual credit hours on academic success or college outcomes is minimal.

The literature review reveals the scarcity of evidence on the question of whether or not dual credit programs significantly predict postsecondary success among first-time college students. This research contributes to this gap in literature.

Research Questions

This study examines the central question, “Is dual credit participation significant in predicting postsecondary success among high school students who matriculate to college?” The following research questions serve as guide:

  1. Does gender, ethnicity and socioeconomic status influence first-term postsecondary GPA among first-time freshmen?
  2. Does high school ACT score and high school GPA predict first-term academic performance of dual credit students?
  3. Does dual credit participation correlate with first term postsecondary GPA?


The following null hypotheses will be tested:

  1. There will be statistically significant difference in first term GPA of dual enrollment and non-dual enrollment students between variables such as gender, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status.
  2. There will be statistically significant differences in the first term GPA of dual enrollment and non-dual enrollment graduates based on high school GPA and ACT scores.
  3. There will be statistically significant differences on the first-term postsecondary GPA among dual and non-dual enrollment graduates.

Research Design

This study aims to examine the relationship of demographic, academic, and enrollment variables on the success of high school students in post-secondary education on the basis of their first-term postsecondary GPA. To this end, a quantitative ex post facto study is designed in order to evaluate the effectiveness of the dual enrollment program in Idaho. A quantitative research design was determined based on the purposes of the study. The intent of the researcher is to determine the contributory variables leading to postsecondary success of those who previously participated in dual credit programs. When the research problems calls for causal explanations or trending of variables, the quantitative research design is appropriate (Creswell, 2005). More specifically, this study applies an ex post facto research methodology to determine whether dual credit programs significantly predict successful first year GPA. Ex post facto or “after the fact” research is a quasi-experimental research form that utilizes available data instead of data obtained through actual experimentation (Goddard & Melville, 2009, p. 9).

This dual credit research will make use of archived raw data from the databases of each participating college in Idaho. Archived raw data regarding participants and nonparticipants in dual enrollment programs will be collected from data stored in a database maintained by each college. As part of the standard educational records maintained at the college, demographic information (gender and race), academic standing, credits earned, and final grades are maintained and archived. In addition to the demographic information, academic standing, and course work completed, the first-semester college GPA of students who enrolled in the community college after high school graduation is maintained in the database.

Population, Sample, and Sites

Colleges selected as research sites are institution actively participating in dual enrollment programs within Idaho. The sample will involve freshman students who are both dual enrollment completers and non-completers. While demographic and academic information is available in the database of each college, the database does not identify who among the freshman students were able to complete dual enrollment programs prior to college entry. Hence, the names of dual enrollment completers will be secured from program heads of postsecondary institutions in Idaho. The sample will then be classified into 1) completers and 2) non-completers of dual credit programs. Data on the various dependent and independent variables to be considered in the study will be obtained through the college database with permission from the respective postsecondary institutions.

Variables to be Studied

For this quantitative ex post facto research, the following dependent and independent variables are identified:

Dependent Variable

First Year GPA. This establishes postsecondary success as the result of dual credit participation during high school. Data will be drawn from the college database.

Independent Variables

  1. Dual-credit enrollment. This study is framed under the assumption that a student's participation in dual credit programs in high school will contribute positively to postsecondary GPA.
    • Gender. As a control variable, it is assumed that a participant's gender influences the success of dual credit programs in postsecondary success. This will also be drawn from the college database.
    • Ethnicity. This study considers ethnicity as a control variable to the effectiveness of dual credit programs.
  2. Socioeconomic status. A student's socioeconomic status is also considered an intervening variable in evaluating the success of dual credit programs in predicting successful postsecondary outcomes.
  3. High school ACT score. In determining the influence of dual credit participation to postsecondary success of freshman students, the ACT score is considered an intervening variable.
  4. High School GPA. In determining the influence of dual credit participation to postsecondary success of freshman students, the high school GPA is considered an intervening variable.

Data Collection and Analysis

This ex post facto quantitative research relies on already available data to establish whether or not participation in dual credit programs during high school can predict successful postsecondary outcomes for students in Idaho institutions. Demographic and academic data is stored in the database of each participating college. In order to obtain access to archive data, personal visits and letters of request will be sent to the heads or directors of institutions. After the required data is retrieved from the college databases, the researcher will input the data using the Statistical Package for the Social Sciences (SPSS v. 16) software program. The same software will process the data for appropriate statistical analysis.

In processing and organizing data, a statistical database will be built. Every student will be assigned a participant number as a code and the demographic profile of the respondents will be logged in. The independent variable identified for study is the first term postsecondary grade point average. The GPAs during the first term will be entered into the statistical database. Control variables such as gender, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status will also be entered into the statistical database. Intervening variables studied as determinants of varying degrees of postsecondary success include the ACT score and high school GPA. The effects of these variables will be correlated with the postsecondary first term GPA indicated in the database.

An ex post facto analysis will reveal whether the independent variables (gender, ethnicity, ACT score, and socioeconomic status) can predict postsecondary success. Moreover, an ex post facto design will determine whether causal relationships exist among the variables. Whatever significant correlations may arise will imply the existence of causal relationships but not necessarily imply causation.

A step-wise multiple regression analysis of variance (ANOVA) conducted at .05 level of significance is selected as the appropriate statistical analysis method to allow the researcher to view each variable separately from the combined effects of variables selected for this study. The backward elimination technique of step-wise regression begins inclusive of all predictors and ascertains what degree of prediction is lost by progressively deleting the variables one at a time. This allows the strongest predictive factors to be identified and other variables in the order of correlation to the success of the participants.

The data will be filtered by specified variables and compiled into and Excel spreadsheet, then transferred into the Statistical Package for Social Sciences (SPSS v. 16) for further analysis. Based on the results of a step-wise multiple regression process, the researcher will determine whether or not to accept or reject the null hypotheses developed prior to data collection.

The findings will be used to test the following hypotheses:

  1. There will be statistically significant difference in first term GPA of dual enrollment and non-dual enrollment students between variables such as gender, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status.
  2. There will be statistically significant differences in the first term GPA of dual enrollment and non-dual enrollment graduates based on high school GPA and ACT scores.
  3. There will be statistically significant differences on the first-term postsecondary GPA among dual and non-dual enrollment graduates.

Ethical standards in research will be considered in the proposed study by asking permission first from the school administrators and explaining the objectives of the study and the procedure that will be followed. To uphold privacy and confidentiality, the participants' names will be replaced with codes to protect their identities.