Promises and Realities: Academic Advisors’ Perspectives of Dual Enrollment Credit

Best Practices / College and Career Readiness / Equity / Research / Student Outcomes /

Spotlight Author: Marissa Moreno, PhD

Study title and author:

“Promises and Realities: Academic Advisors’ Perspectives of Dual Enrollment Credit” by Patricia Witkowsky, Kathryn Starkey, Grant Clayton, Martin Garnar, and Ashley Andersen.

Study purpose: The purpose of this study was to consider the perspectives of college academic advisors who work with high school graduates matriculating to four-year institutions with a large number of semester credit hours completed through dual and concurrent enrollment opportunities. Specific to this study, students entered college with 24 semester credit hours and were considered sophomore status. Many of these students entered their initial advising session understanding college courses as described in dual enrollment programming, not aware of college curriculum expectations or the rigor of taking college courses at the four-year institutions. Undertrained high school counselors are often tasked with college advising for these students, requesting communication from college academic advisors to assist with the dual enrollment students’ understanding of how college credits apply to college curriculum. Moreover, college academic advisors are assigned students who completed high credit dual enrollment (HCDE), restricting their ability to plan course selections for the remainder of their degree and to navigate maturity and/or soft skills essential for higher level coursework.

Study sample and methods: The authors used a qualitative research design to evaluate how college academic advisors understand dual enrollment and how this understanding navigates their work with HCDE students entering their 4-year institutions. Recruited through the NACADA statewide network, college academic advisors who advise in 4-year public institutions in Colorado were recruited. The sample included 11 advisors across seven universities. The authors collected data through semi-structured interviews, asking 19 questions about their perspectives and experiences with advising students who are admitted as HCDE students.

Summary of findings: Findings from the study identified that “Advisors shared common experiences of educating HCDE students about their DE credits during the initial advising meetings…often provided a new perspective inclusive of college academics related to the inapplicability of DE credits to college degree plans, the importance and purpose of buffer classes, and the rigor of college coursework at four-year institutions” (p. 66).  In addition, results revealed the following sections of perspectives from participating advisors:

  • Degree Plans and Saving Time with DE: Students who entered the advising session assumed the credits earned through dual enrollment applied to their desired degree plan, advancing them towards degree completion. Many of these students did not declare a major before taking DE course, giving them credits that were not applicable to their degree. Furthermore, one advisor indicated from her experience that “Often the classes they’re left with are not great paired together. We are running into pre-requisite issues with those types of things” (p. 66). Advisors found this as true for STEM majors who oftentimes require intentional course sequencing.
  • Saving Money with DE: Advisors reported that several students were disappointed to find that the DE classes taken in high school did not completely advance them in their degree. One advisor expressed that students are not saving money taking DE classes unless they know which classes to take towards transferability and applicability into a program at the 4-year institution, emphasizing the importance of educating the students and families before starting DE coursework. Furthermore, it was stated, “I feel like their families, and the way it’s sold is: this is just a way where you don’t have to pay for two years of college” (p. 67). 
  • Students Completing Unneeded DE Credits: When advising HCDE students, advisors found that these students ended up with excess credits contributed to the lack or absence of advising or from choosing classes that fit high school schedule. These excess credits caused several issues for the students once they transferred into their majors, forcing “students to take more electives to balance out some of the sciences they would have to be in” (p. 67). Some DE courses taken in high school could act as a buffer for students in majors requiring semesters with heavy course loads, leaving less of an opportunity to balance class sequencing. In addition, advisors noted financial aid eligibility concerns, sometimes requiring students to pay for classes that are not a part of the degree plan to meet full-time status.
  • Value of College Experience: Advisors indicated that many students did not understand the rigor of college courses at a college after high school. They found several students unprepared when making the transition to taking college courses at the 4-year institution. 
  • Maturity: DE coursework is typically taken between the ages of 14 to 18 years. HCDE students can be some of the youngest students in their college classes, with a higher level of expectation. Advisors found that some students had a hard time handling disappointments or setbacks. Moreover, they found that some “may have a false sense of security, which can lead to poor academic performance” (p. 69). 
  • Career Readiness: When advising students, advisors expressed concerns with these students graduating early and then entering the workforce or graduate/professional school. The lack of time at the 4-year institution to develop the necessary skill sets, mature and grow is a concern advisors expressed. 

Implications: With more and more students taking advantage of DE while in high school, the perspectives of college advising these students after graduation is important. Research specific to advising DE students after high school graduation is limited. This study examined the effects of DE credits after students graduate from high school and the need to improve communication between high school counselors and academic advisors. This communication can benefit students when deciding on courses that integrate into specific degrees after high school graduation, decrease excess credits for student’s post-graduation, and better align DE coursework to students’ intended college pathway. In addition, the researchers suggested the implementation of an orientation for students and families that could assist them when making decisions on their DE participation, their understanding of how DE is connected to the college curriculum, and its potential financial benefits. 

Link to journal article: