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Rhode Island Students Succeed After Participating in Accelerated College Credit Programs, U.S. Department of Education Study Finds

Participation in a high school accelerated college credit program is linked to higher graduation rates and college enrollment

PROVIDENCE, RI — A new study, conducted in Rhode Island, funded by the U.S. Department of Education and executed by researchers at the Education Development Center shows that Rhode Island’s free, accelerated college credit programs have significant positive effects on students' high school graduation rates, entry into college, and ultimately success in college. Critically, the research shows students equally benefited from dual enrollment programs, no matter their family income.

Rhode Island Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education Angélica Infante-Green and Rhode Island Commissioner of Postsecondary Education Shannon Gilkey responded to the study findings and recommitted to offering these important opportunities to all Rhode Island students. Accelerated college credit programs are opportunities for high school students to earn college credit, and Rhode Island currently offers three forms of these programs: advanced placement courses, dual enrollment courses, and concurrent enrollment.

The study was executed by Education Development Center as part of ED’s Regional Educational Laboratory. It examined the 2013/2014 cohort of 9th-graders in Rhode Island and found that students who participate in accelerated college credit programs, regardless of their economic status, are more likely to graduate from high school, enroll in college within a year of graduating, and avoid enrollment in developmental education courses during their first year at Rhode Island public colleges than are nonparticipating students. It also showed inequities in access to these programs for the 2013/2014 cohort, highlighting the importance of RIDE’s efforts to expand these programs statewide.

“Rhode Island’s students are brilliant, and we know that they rise to the level of opportunity that we provide to them,” said Commissioner Infante-Green. “The results of the REL study show both the prevalence and success of the state’s efforts to expand college credit programs for every student in every district. It also shows, however, that we still have work ahead in providing education equity across the state. We are going to continue to work hard to provide every Rhode Island student with opportunities to learn, grow, and succeed throughout their high school careers and beyond.”

“College readiness is a shared goal of the entire education system to ensure that all high school graduates are well prepared for a successful college experience,” said Dr. Gilkey. “We know that college readiness and affordability are gatekeepers to completion of a college credential. Earning college credits in high school accelerates degree completion, promotes attainment of postsecondary degrees necessary to land the jobs that pay livable wages, and decreases the cost of tuition and fees.”

“The research demonstrates the positive effect that access to tuition-free college credit programs can have on students regardless of their families’ income level,” said Katherine Shields, lead author and senior researcher at the Education Development Center. “We look forward to building on this research in collaboration with RIDE and RIOPC.”

The study, launched in response to a request from Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) and the Rhode Island Office of the Postsecondary Commissioner (RIOPC), sought to identify the state’s participation rate in accelerated college credit courses, the effects of that participation, and difference in those effects among students. The study found that 41% of Rhode Island students who entered the 9th grade in the 2013-2014 school year had taken at least one accelerated college credit course by the 12th grade, with 15% participating in multiple programs.

Of the students who participated in accelerated college credit courses, the study found they were predicted to have a 96% chance of graduation from high school, compared to a 75% chance for similar students who don’t participate in the programs. Additionally, students in these programs have an expected 84% chance of going to college compared to a 54% chance for students who don’t participate in these programs. Participation was also linked with greater success at college, with participants less likely to enroll in developmental education courses during the first year at a Rhode Island public college.

The study also found significant demographic inequities among students who participated in accelerated college credit programs and those who did not. Compared to the entire 2013/2014 9th-grade cohort, fewer students of color, male students, and economically disadvantaged students participated in accelerated college credit programs. Students who had been chronically absent in the past were also less likely to participate, as were students who had previously been suspended.

Based on results of the study, researchers concluded that Rhode Island may want to expand access to accelerated college credit programs across the state, with a specific focus on creating new programs in urban schools to boost enrollment among students who belong to currently-underserved demographics. RIDE is already in the process of taking action on this front, which was a priority of its Learning, Equity, and Accelerated Pathways (LEAP) Task Force. In response to LEAP’s findings, RIDE offered an expanded list of summer college credit courses through EnrollRI.org, which are available to all Rhode Island students regardless of school district. Additionally, Hope High School is applying to be the state’s first public International Baccalaureate school.

Overall, Rhode Island has successfully increased participation in advanced college credit programs by 150% since 2015, and has led the nation in improving its AP test pass rates. RIDE will continue to expand access to accelerated college credit programs through the PrepareRI Dual Enrollment Fund, which makes both dual enrollment and concurrent enrollment courses free for students. Under RIOPC’s administration of this program, the fund has saved Rhode Island families more than $45 million and led to a 41% increase in student participation.