A New Study on Dual Enrollment in Wisconsin’s High Schools and Technical Colleges

by Xueli Wang / Apr 11, 2016

In a recent study published in Community College Review, my colleagues (Al Phelps, Janet Washbon, and Hsun-yu Chan) and I examined how participation in dual enrollment options between Wisconsin’s high schools and technical colleges is related to both early academic momentum (Adelman, 2006) and short-term educational outcomes among Wisconsin’s high school graduates who attended technical colleges. In particular, we focused on three major dual enrollment options by which high school students can earn college credits that count toward technical college program completion (Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, 2013; Wisconsin Technical College System Office, 2014):

  • Advanced Standing (AS) courses with credit applied after students enroll in a technical college pro
  • Transcripted Credit (TC) courses, with students earning high school and college credit at the same time
  • Youth Options (YO) program under Wisconsin’s Department of Public Instruction, in which students enroll in a college course

For the AS and TC options, students can earn college credit or advanced standing status, provided that they eventually enroll at a Wisconsin Technical College System (WTCS) campus, when such credit and advanced status will be activated. These TC and AS courses are typically taught by certified high school instructors. Through YO, high school juniors and seniors can enroll in postsecondary courses at 2- and 4-year public and private postsecondary institutions, and receive both high school and college credit.

Focusing on these dual enrollment options in Wisconsin, we were curious to find out whether technical college attendees who participated in any of these options, compared with those who didn’t, show stronger academic momentum early in college, which may then result in positive college outcomes. In other words, we wanted to know if dual enrollment participation gives students a head start in terms of the pace at which they make initial academic progress at college. In our analysis, we included 15,449 first-time students starting at any of the 16 technical colleges in Wisconsin during the 2009-2010 academic year who graduated from high school between 2007 and 2009. We followed their college enrollment and transcript data for two years. About 7.4% of the students in our sample had at least one dual enrollment credit recorded on their transcript when enrolling in the WTCS. 

Based on a path analysis that captures the relationship among dual enrollment, academic momentum, and college success indicators, our results suggest that participation in dual enrollment indeed shows a positive link to students’ gaining early academic momentum. Dual enrollment participants tended to have minimum delay between high school and college entry, attempted more credits in the first year, were more likely to take summer courses following the first year, and earned better first-term GPA, all of which are considered good indicators of early academic momentum (Adelman, 1999, 2006; Attewell, Heil, & Reisel, 2012), and all of which we confirmed to subsequently relate to these students’ college retention and completion by the end of the second year of their initial college enrollment.

Taken together, our work shows that dual enrollment’s potential influence extends to college in a steady, momentum-building fashion. Students who experience dual enrollment bring to college the forward impetus generated by dual enrollment, and this impetus continues to fuel their early college momentum that helps keep them accelerating toward future success. Our finding stresses the need for sustained and concerted institutional efforts to strengthen existing and build new dual enrollment partnerships. This process can be viewed as building momentum to chart an uninterrupted pathway to college and beyond, with dual enrollment being a key accelerant for academic momentum. Accordingly, everything should be done to achieve a strong alignment between dual enrollment courses and other components of the curriculum at both the high school and college level in order to help students gain precollege momentum that fuels a smooth transition into postsecondary education, focused early academic efforts, and steady educational progress toward completion. With this key implication from our study, we encourage educators, policymakers, and researchers to think about dual enrollment as a key ingredient underlying academic momentum within the larger picture of the pathway to and through college. As a community, we must further research and develop programs to support dual enrollment in building academic momentum to sustain students on their postsecondary trajectory.


The research described in this blog was supported by the National Science Foundation (Award No. 1104226), conducted in partnership with the Wisconsin Technical College System, the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, and the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.


  • Adelman, C. (1999). Answers in the toolbox: Academic intensity, attendance patterns, and bachelor’s degree attainment.
  • Adelman, C. (2006). The toolbox revisited: Paths to degree completion from high school through college.
  • Attewell, P., Heil, S., & Reisel, L. (2012). What is academic momentum? And does it matter? Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 34(1), 27-44. doi:10.3102/0162373711421958
  • Wisconsin Technical College System Office (2014). Dual credit articulation.
  • Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (2013, May). Youth options program: Information for students and parents.

Xueli Wang is an assistant professor at University of Wisconsin-Madison.