Without large-scale comparative studies of diverse delivery contexts, stakeholders lack a clear road map for understanding, developing and improving dual credit reforms to maximize student success and diminish equity gaps.

Julia Duncheon

While more students of all backgrounds are aspiring to and enrolling in college, completion rates have remained stagnant, with approximately 40 percent of students who enter 4-year colleges never completing their degrees.

An increasingly popular reform to bolster college completion is dual credit coursework that confers both college and high school credit. But while studies have shown positive effects on college enrollment and degree attainment, University of Washington College of Education Professor Julia Duncheon notes that these effects are often smaller for low-income students and students of color.

Duncheon is primary investigator of a recently-announced $1 million grant from the Spencer Foundation that will fund a four-year study exploring how different dual credit delivery contexts influence the educational pathways of students from diverse demographic backgrounds.

“Our research is designed to address these ongoing questions about what dual credit looks like in practice, whom it benefits and why,” said Duncheon, a UW Nielsen Scholar.

The fact that dual credit models vary substantially depending on where the course is taught and who teaches it is a major challenge facing policymakers who are interested in closing opportunity gaps in access to college.

For example, some dual credit courses are offered on a college campus, and others at a high school. Some students may be taught by a college professor while others are taught by a high school teacher.

Moreover, Duncheon noted that marginalized students are concentrated in low-performing, under-resourced schools, which means low-income students and students of color who take dual credit are more likely to do so through a program offered at an under-performing high school.

“In other words, two students taking dual credit English 1 in different delivery contexts will have vastly different experiences, with implications for their college preparation and persistence,” Duncheon said. “Without large-scale comparative studies of diverse delivery contexts, stakeholders lack a clear road map for understanding, developing and improving dual credit reforms to maximize student success and diminish equity gaps.”

To study the issue, the research team will draw on data from Texas to explore students’ course experiences and outcomes in different delivery contexts and for different student populations. Duncheon noted that Texas is an ideal location for the study because the state has been a national leader in scaling up dual credit and serves a large and growing population of students who are historically underrepresented in higher education.

The mixed-methods approach of the study will allow Duncheon and her collaborators to look at whether the postsecondary outcomes linked to particular delivery contexts are different for students from different backgrounds as well as compare teaching and learning conditions in high- and low-performing schools and the postsecondary experiences of diverse dual credit graduates.

In addition, the study will consider how dual credit fosters academic and cultural socialization so that students can succeed in postsecondary education and whether the coursework either disrupts or reinforces educational stratification.

Serving as co-PIs on the project are David Knight of the UW College of Education, Taryn Ozuna Allen ofTexas Christian University and Barbara Tobolowsky of University of Texas at Arlington.

Django Paris, James A. and Cherry A. Banks Professor of Multicultural Education, also received a $1 million grant from the Spencer Foundation as co-primary investigator on a project studying the implementation of culturally sustaining pedagogy.

With H. Samy Alim (University of California, Los Angeles), Paris will explore the strengths and limitations of  culturally sustaining pedagogy across four different educational contexts in the U.S., Spain and South Africa and what factors make it more or less likely to succeed.


Julia Duncheon, Assistant Professor of Education

Dustin Wunderlich, Director of Marketing and Communications
206-543-1035, dwunder@uw.edu