Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education

Strengthening Kentucky’s dual credit efforts: A Q&A with national expert Alex Perry

May 04, 2023

Alex Perry headshot
About our guest: Alex Perry is coordinator of the College in High School Alliance (CHSA), which advocates for policy solutions that advance the success of early college programs. He currently serves the Council as a national collaborator and provides technical assistance with Kentucky’s dual credit policy efforts.

The rise of early college experiences in high school shows tremendous promise - Kentucky's dual credit enrollment grew 35% in the last five years. However, the challenge is to expand access to students of all socioeconomic backgrounds and ability levels. CPE spoke to national expert Alex Perry about the state's dual credit progress and his suggestions for next steps.

As you know, Kentucky just set a dual credit attainment goal of 50% of Kentucky high school students graduating with a passing grade in at least one dual credit course. Why was 50% chosen as the magic number?

Fifty percent wasn’t chosen arbitrarily but with both intentionality and viability in mind. Dual credit attainment in Kentucky in 2021 was approximately 41% - not that far off from the 50% goal. If we can focus growth on populations of students who are currently underrepresented in the programs, there’s no reason to expect that Kentucky cannot make the goal. All it would take is for every high school in the state to add one or two new students from underrepresented populations per year. That is certainly achievable, and will truly make dual credit an available option for all Kentucky students.

Speaking of student demographics and underrepresentation, CPE’s data shows that the typical Kentucky dual credit student is a white female who is not classified as a low-income student. A challenge is expanding participation, especially among low-income males in rural areas or low-income minority males in urban areas. What are other states doing to diversify participation?

This isn’t just a Kentucky phenomenon. It’s a national trend we’re seeing that has sparked a lot of conversation.

I think we must ensure that all high schools are not only bought into the benefits of dual credit courses, but also are actively seeking partnerships with higher education institutions to provide the courses. Also, as part of that buy-in, high schools need to actively prepare their staff for dual credit advising and promotion of the programs to students other than those who are the most academically talented.

What are some of the things other states are doing that Kentucky might consider adopting?

I think the strategies outlined alongside the dual credit attainment goal provide a means for Kentucky to responsibly improve the dual credit experience for all students. Beyond program expansion, dual credit partners should think about how to provide students with more meaningful and intentional dual credit experiences. Support doesn’t end with provision of the courses. It’s about making those courses achievable and count toward college and career. That means high-quality counseling and advising, and continuing to strengthen those partnerships between high schools and colleges to provide that.

Support doesn’t end with provision of the courses. It’s about making those courses achievable and count toward college and career. That means high-quality counseling and advising, and continuing to strengthen those partnerships between high schools and colleges to provide that. - Alex Perry, CHSA

Speaking of achievement and success - Another challenge Kentucky faces is that not every dual credit participant passes the course. There are a variety of reasons this might happen, from lack of student readiness to inconsistencies in course rigor among institutions. How can we better ensure student success in these courses?

Yes, we do need to ensure that in expanding access, we are not doing harm to students by setting them up for failure. That’s an issue of culture among both the high school and the college partner. They should be thinking critically about not just the access frameworks but building those supports necessary for students to thrive and succeed in these frameworks.

We know from research that many more students can succeed in dual credit than have traditionally been thought of as “ready” to participate. That includes groups like students with disabilities. With that in mind, we need to shift from the “traditional” college student approach of providing dual credit courses to what needs to happen to set all students up for success. Kentucky’s new dual credit community of practice that is launching soon should provide an important venue for these discussions.

Among those who succeed, Kentucky’s data shows that there is a strong correlation between dual credit participation and first-year college success. Why do you think that is, and, based on what you know, does this success follow through to completion?

Research has not yet given us a clear answer on why that correlation exists, but I think there are a lot of strong hypotheses.

High school is a rigorously structured environment with many student supports; college is much less structured. I think that transition from one to the other is hard because we don’t teach students how to be college students. They only know how to be a high school student right up to the moment they step foot on to the campus. It’s up to them to self-advocate to access any kind of support services.

I think dual credit helps manage that transition for students, helping them to learn how to be successful in college while still having access to the support systems of their high school. Dual credit serves as a bridging mechanism to set students up for success.

OK, last question: Not thinking about Kentucky or other states but within Alex Perry’s ideal world, if you could construct your own dual credit program, what would be some of the key things you’d include?

My ideal dual credit program is one that sees the potential and possibility in every student around accessing dual credit and develops the timeline, interventions and experiences that are right for that student. And the foundation is that close and collaborative relationship between the high school and the college that puts the needs of the individual students first.

Last Updated: 5/9/2023