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July/August 2016

Examining 30 years of dual credit in Illinois
by Hans A. Andrews

Hans A. Andrews is past president and currently a Distinguished Fellow in Community College Leadership at Olney Central College. He has also authored a book, The Dual Credit Phenomenon: Challenging Secondary School Students Across 50 States.

Thirty years ago, the administration of Illinois Valley Community College (IVCC) was asked to consider bringing college-level classes to Marquette High School, a private Catholic high school located in nearby Ottawa.

The principal, Joan Jobst, and the school counselor at Marquette, the late Owen Fox, asked IVCC to see whether it would be suitable for college credit courses to be offered to high school juniors and seniors during the regular school day. Several department heads and the college dean of admissions, Robert Marshall, assessed classrooms and found them suitable, except for science labs, for college-level lab classes.

The principal said that they had tried Advanced Placement (AP) courses, but it was difficult to keep students interested and motivated through the semester, as they only received one test score — the final exam that all AP classes utilized at the end of each course — to see if they were learning the material. Some seniors were opting out of taking the exam and, therefore, receiving no college credit for their efforts.

Marquette and the college agreed to start offering three classes each semester. English and psychology would be offered to seniors and U.S. history and psychology would be offered for juniors. The college instituted a placement test to assess student readiness for English 101 to enhance the success of students enrolled in that class. Both juniors and seniors could enroll in one or two courses at a time.

By taking two classes for six semester hours in each semester, it would be possible for a senior to have completed 24 semester credits by high school graduation. By taking one summer session of six semester credits, a full year of college could be completed by high school graduation. Dual-credit courses were college level courses that were also being accepted as meeting high school course requirements toward graduation.

The term “dual credit” is defined by the Illinois Community College Board as follows:

“Dual credit is an instructional arrangement where an academically qualified student currently enrolled in high school enrolls in a college-level course and, upon successful completion, concurrently earns both college credit and high school credit.”

In 2015 Illinois community colleges offered 9,714 dual credit courses, and 51,718 high school students enrolled in one or more of them. Nationally, the most recent numbers are from 2011, reflecting that 1.4 million high school students, from 15,000 high schools, took over 2 million dual credit courses from postsecondary

It was not known back in 1986 that this program was to be the first of many dual-credit programs between a community college and a secondary school in Illinois. In fact, it was one of the earliest in the nation. At that time, the University of Minnesota was allowing secondary school students to enroll by attending campus for classes. There was no tie-in at that time with community colleges and courses were not offered at the secondary schools.

Initial concerns

There was some concern on how   post-secondary schools in Illinois would accept this new “dual credit” concept. At first, when both the high school transcript from Marquette and college credit transcript from IVCC were submitted to universities, all college credits were accepted. Some students, therefore, entered their college years with either one semester or one year already completed.

Most courses offered in the early years were in general education: English composition, psychology, sociology, speech, U.S. history, philosophy, and other general education courses.

There was no problem with any of the state universities, and most private schools were also receptive. One student planning to go to the University of Notre Dame found that they would not accept any dual-credit courses. He enrolled, nevertheless, and later told his alma mater in Ottawa that he was still much better prepared having completed those dual-credit courses.

However, after three or four years of accepting dual-credit courses, the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana notified the community college that it would no longer accept dual-credit class credits. Two community college presidents and I attended a meeting with the director of admissions and most of the college deans at the University of Illinois to discuss their concerns. Apparently, a student in the chemistry department who had transferred dual credits in the subject was unable to successfully complete the next level of the course. We later learned that the student had attended a junior college in Missouri. Fortunately, within a few years, the U of I resumed dual-credit transfers, mainly because so many more community colleges and secondary schools had entered these programs.

Solving ‘senioritis’

The “wasted senior year,” “senioritis,” and “blowing off senior year” are expressions that used to describe a problem common to many high schools, sparking a number of nationally published studies. In 2001, Leo Botstein, president of Bard College, found most seniors admitting that they were wasting their final year of high school just prior to starting college, because most or all requirements for college had been met by the end of junior year. “The real solution to senior slump should be to engage students in the excitement of learning through a challenging curriculum, heading off the problem before it begins,” he said in an opinion piece written in the New York Times.

The problem even prompted a federal study. The National Commission on the High School Senior Year in 2001 concluded that very little had been done to interconnect K-12 and postsecondary education systems. They described senior year as a “fairly lost cause” for a large percentage of seniors:

“For a variety of reasons, student motivation drops in the senior year. Short of a miserable failure in the senior year, practically every college-bound student knows that what they have accomplished through Grade 11 will largely determine whether or not they attend college, and if so, which college. As a result, serious preparation ends at Grade 11.”

Although some secondary schools offered honors classes to challenge their brightest students, many of them, upon arriving to colleges, complained that much freshman year coursework was very similar to, if not the same as, high school honors course programs. This also prompted more schools to offer Advanced Placement (AP) classes, in order to start earning some college credit prior to graduation.

Dual credit on the rise

However, the motivation that propelled the dual-credit system to its current heights came when legislation was passed to support dual-credit funding and tuition reduction or replacement. The Accelerated College Enrollment Grant was created to enable colleges to either waive tuition or significantly reduce it. This brought many community colleges and hundreds more secondary schools into dual-credit programs.

What once was limited to the general education areas of study has now grown to include a wide variety of technical and vocational offerings:

Technical: Cisco networking, mechanical technology, computer information systems, computer assisted drafting, electronics, broadcasting, networking, introduction to the internet, information processing, telecommunications, pharmacy technology, food management, and emergency technician.

Vocational: automotive technology, nursing assistant, welding, electronics engineering technology, cosmetology, criminal justice, ornamental horticulture, machine tool, drafting, culinary arts, air conditioning and refrigeration, banking, electricity, diesel technology, manufacturing processes, and gas welding.

Such offerings are important to secondary schools that no longer can afford to offer the array of vocational programs that had been available to previous generations of students. It is especially helpful to schools, students and families in rural, downstate communities. Olney Central College helps fill the vocational and technical educational void for Richland County CUSD 1 by offering courses in automotive service, collision repair, Cisco training, cabinet making, and accounting. Lewis and Clark College in Godfrey has become a beacon of dual credit in Illinois with its High School Partnership/Dual Credit program under present director Yvette McLemore. In fact, Lewis and Clark has been cited for offering the largest number of course options in the state.

The benefits of dual-credit coursework are not limited to rural schools. Wabaunsee Community College received a grant from the Aurora-based Dunham Foundation to run a two-year, experimental, dual-credit program for students from both East and West Aurora High Schools. The program recruited “mid-range students,” not “the best and the brightest,” and brought them to WCC’s downtown Aurora campus for college courses taught by college faculty. These students represented “under-served” populations, such as minority, low income, and first-generation college students. The program, which included free tuition, was administered under the guidance of Dr. William Marzano of WCC. Completion rates for these students exceeded the overall rate at the institution, and the program stretched the grant to four years, thereby serving more students. Without this program, many of these students may not have finished high school, let alone be exposed to and succeeding at college-level coursework.

Similar to the seminal Marquette High School program, students completed 24 hours of college credit upon graduating from high school. Additionally, the program provided excellent social dynamic opportunities between students that should prove important for the future of the city of Aurora and its wider region.

Dual credit is now 30 years old in Illinois, as hundreds of secondary schools continue partnerships with the state’s community colleges. At a Dual Credit Summit meeting several years ago in Springfield, it was noted that the dual-credit movement might be the most important educational development in education over the past 50 years.


National Commission on the High School Senior Year, a preliminary report created by a partnership between the U.S. Department of Education, the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Charles Steward Mott Foundation, and the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, 2001.

State of Illinois, Board of Higher Education, Status Report on Implementation of Policies Recommended by The Committee to Study Affordability. Springfield, March 5, 1996.

Andrews, H.A., “Phenomenal growth for dual-credit programs,” The Illinois School Board Journal, March/April 2013.

Andrews, H.A., “The dual-credit phenomenon! Challenging secondary school students across 50 states,” New Forums Press, Stillwater, Okla., 2001.

Andrews, H.A., “The dual-credit explosion in Illinois Community Colleges,” research brief, Olney, 2000.

Andrews, H.A., “The dual-credit movement in community colleges,” J. Staff, Program, & Organizational Development, 2000.

Botstein, L., “Famous slackers of senior year,” Opinion, New York Times, June 15, 2001.

Marshall, R.P., and Andrews, H.A., “Challenging students with college work,” The School Administrator, 1990.

The Illinois Community College Board’s statistical summary for early college data is available From there a link with additional data is available.

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