Dual credit programs offer a wonderful opportunity for high school students to get an early start on their college careers.
These programs allow instructors trained by colleges to teach college-level courses at a high school, all for a reduced tuition rate. There are 97 accredited dual credit programs around the country, and while all have their own strengths, some stand out for their offerings more than others.
To help students find quality educational opportunities, I created a list of the 10 Best Dual Credit Programs in the United States.
I arrived at this list by creating detailed criteria and using them to evaluate the existing options. Here is what that process entailed:
When I set out on this adventure to research these colleges, I had to take some time to deeply reflect on which criteria I felt were important, from the point of view of a student, and from my own point of view as the director of a dual credit program. My guiding question was “As the director of such a program, what do I feel students need to know about dual credit institutions to guide their search?"
So, approaching my research as a curious high school student eager to gain college credit, or a family member of such a student, I combed through each of the 97 programs’ websites, viewing each on through the lens of my criteria.
Knowing that typically, people spend a minute or two reading a website, and only 10 seconds searching for the website they are looking for, I decided to limit my research to 15 minutes per institution. This gave me enough time to find the answers to important questions, and also allowed me to factor in the website’s clarity as a part of my criteria, since it’s essential that students and families be able to find answers to their questions about such programs easily. A cumbersome website or one with little information can cause a student or family to forgo this educational opportunity.
The following are the five points of criteria I used to create the list, along with explanations of their importance and meaning.
Why it matters: A program that is accredited by the only accrediting body in the nation speaks volumes about what a given program accomplishes. NACEP has worked for years to create nationalized standards that weigh a dual credit program's authenticity, commitment, support, and rigor of secondary education. To be an accredited member of NACEP is a token of pride, as becoming a member involves an intense process requiring programs to be transparent about what they do. This process also brings together dual credit peers to stringently review programs’ strengths and areas in which they need to improve.
What this means: Choosing this as the first guideline allowed me to shrink the list of total programs to 97 individual institutions that have earned and retained accreditation through the 2014–2015 academic year.
Why it matters: A strong dual credit program will offer its high school participants a diverse catalogue of courses for college credit. The goal of dual credit education is to give qualified students a head start on their college careers. If an institution only offers a few courses, the likelihood of a student making substantial progress on her undergraduate career is limited. If, however, the institution offers a variety of course options that fulfill core requirements and electives at universities, then the student will save time and money upon matriculating.
What this means: The list was sorted and ranked by the amount of courses listed publicly on programs’ websites. The search revealed that there is work to be done in terms of website organization and visibly listing all dual credit courses. Courses that were offered online by university faculty were counted as dual enrollment and not dual credit.
Why it matters: For dual credit to be effective, a college or university needs to be able to recruit secondary schools and maintain strong partnerships with them. Another goal of dual credit education is to create a collegiate environment for the exchange of ideas and resources between higher education and secondary education. Additionally, a larger pool of partner high schools means that a larger population of student can access it. If a program partners with one or two high schools, only a handful of students will benefit.
What this means: Universities were sorted by the number of high school partnerships it holds. Those with greater numbers of partner institutions gained a higher ranking on the overall list.
Why it matters: Dual credit programs should hold students to the same standards as on-campus courses. These classes are meant to emulate a college experience. Therefore, students need to exhibit the maturity and rigor to take on a college course in high school. One way to measure a student's aptitude and ability to commit to this rigor is by having a mandated eligibility requirement based on GPA or standardized test scores.
What it means: A GPA is more telling of a student's ability and academic work than a standardized test, as it directly reflects her performance on coursework leading to a final grade. Program requirements were taken from websites (where available) and sorted. I selected a B-level GPA as the minimum to be a part of the list. Most states do have a mandated policy regarding GPA or placement tests, so these, in conjunction with average standardized test scores, were considered. This category was weighted less heavily due to different standards existing in different states.
Why it matters: Dual credit is meant to be an affordable option to help increase access to college. The tuition rate for dual credit classes should be drastically lower than it is for on-campus courses. The cost per credit hour is an important factor when looking the affordability of higher education. Some institutions charge the school district, which allows the credit to be free to students, and some will charge the families for the tuition. Either way, someone is paying for the credit and the cost per credit hour should be considered as a means to measure the programs’ feasibility and benefit to students and families.
What it means: Institutions’ cost per credit hour was calculated based on public information from programs’ websites. Colleges were ranked accordingly. Some institutions did not list the cost to either the family or district.
The following are a few examples of the colleges that met this criteria and were placed on the list:
Boise State University in Idaho is a great example of a college that offers a wide array of courses at an affordable rate. The school offers more than 70 individual classes for college credit at a tuition rate of $65 per credit hour. Additionally, the school holds a high standard in eligibility by institution, requiring that 11th and 12th grade students have a 3.0 GPA to participate.
The University of Connecticut is the oldest dual credit program in America, started in 1955, and has an admirable entrepreneurial spirit. UConn has maintained an affordable rate of $45 per credit hour for over 60 courses. Additionally, the university partners with 150 institutions, allowing it to reach a large segment of students around the country.
The University of Southern Indiana has created a cost-effective and accessible dual credit program for its partner high school. At a tuition rate of $25 per credit hour with over 40 different courses, the value of what a student can accomplish before going to college makes this program stand out. The university stood out for its commitment to NACEP accreditation combined with the affordability and diversity of its courses.
In my overall analysis, I used these five factors to narrow the list down to ten programs that were accredited, offered a wide range of partnerships and courses for credit, held a GPA standard at B-level or better, and had a reasonable tuition cost in comparison to the cost of undergraduate education. As mentioned above, I also factored in the accessibility of the information on the programs’ websites.
While transferability is an important question, it is difficult to measure — each university has its own articulation policy. Finding this transferability is a nearly impossible task with the amount of variability per institution. Students and families should be sure to check in with their prospective programs about articulation and transferability.
The 10 Best Dual Credit Programs list is meant to highlight some top-notch programs. It’s just a place to start your search — families should still research their own options and utilize some of these questions to guide their decisions. There are many great programs out there. One only needs to start looking and asking to find out what will be the best option!
Curious about the other programs on the list? Find the full list of top dual credit programs here.
Noodle is also home to free advice about earning college credit in high school and customizable college search.