Students enroll in dual credit courses in high school for a number of reasons. Cost is a popular one. Dual credit courses are typically much more affordable than traditional college credit, so successfully completing one dual credit course can shave hundreds of dollars off a college degree.
A less obvious, but just as important, reason students opt for dual credit is to experience college-level work. The jump from high school to college can be intimidating, with most college courses requiring more analysis, critical thinking, and a lot more papers than high school courses. Taking dual credit, through programs such as Advanced Placement or through a regionally accredited university, can help students build confidence that they will be successful when they make the transition to college.
And some students, such as the 6% of K-12 students who are gifted and talented, want college-level work because they enjoy the challenge.
So, is dual credit a viable option for gifted and talented students? The simple answer is yes, but the real answer is more nuanced. To understand the full breadth of why dual credit programs are not only appropriate for high school GT students but also beneficial, we need to understand the nature of giftedness.
Gifted students function at a higher cognitive level and are often advanced in their intellectual ability by several years. They can feel bored and unstimulated both in high school as well as the early years of college. This can lead to the development of apathy and in some cases results in gifted students dropping out of school completely.
A dual credit program that challenges a high school student with a college-level curriculum at a younger age can provide them the stimulation they may lack and may help them to find interest and investment in what they are learning.
What about talented students? Students who may possess intellectual or other talents also need additional stimulation and can find high school on-level classes lacking in both stimulation and interest. A dual credit program, just as with gifted students, enables talented students the ability to advance in their academic careers while offering them the challenges necessary to make the most of their talents.
To best assess why dual credit benefits both gifted and talented students, we will evaluate both the benefits and drawbacks of the program and how these may impact GT students.
The benefits of dual credit lie in two main areas. The first is the obvious: it allows students the ability to advance academically. In some cases, when students graduate from high school, they can earn an associate degree or have an equivalent number of college-level course hours to start college or university as a junior. For those students wishing to pursue advanced degrees, dual credit enables them to save as much as two years of time and enter graduate and post-graduate programs sooner.
Dual credit, as noted above, also challenges students and enables them to work at a college level while still in high school. In some programs, students get access to support and resources at the partner college or university, giving them a taste of what is available through the school. That experience can motivate the student to pursue advanced degrees.
Dual Credit is not without its setbacks. Many dual credit programs are state bound. This means that college credits earned do not transfer out of state. This can limit student choices of colleges or universities or limit their ability to transfer the hours they earned. If your student is interested in a school different from the one where they are earning the credit, make sure the program they use gives them a transcript from a regionally accredited (sometimes called institutionally accredited) college or university. Those credits have the highest likelihood of transferring to other colleges.
Finally, there are many delivery models for dual credit programs, including in-person at the college, blended where the course is online but supported at the high school with other students taking the same course at the same time, or fully remote. Depending on the student’s comfort, they may prefer a one delivery model over another. It’s important to know how the course is delivered and if the student will be comfortable with that model.
When weighing the pros and cons of dual credit programs, it is clear that while there are some limitations to dual credit, it is an excellent advanced program option that enables gifted and talented students to explore college-level coursework while still in high school. Dual credit can also provide students the challenges and stimulation that may be missing in regular high school classes and can also enable them to advance in their college careers more quickly. For these reasons, it is certainly a program worth pursuing.
Dr. Elizabeth Contreras has been in education since 2004. She has a Master’s degree in History and a Doctorate in Education. She has worked in all levels of education from elementary school to college, in both in-person settings and online environments. While primarily in the Social Studies field, Elizabeth also specializes in gifted education, English as a Second language, and educational psychology.