Districts seeking to elevate the rigor and value of career pathways increasingly turn to dual enrollment courses in a variety of career and technical subjects. Entry-level college courses in high-demand technical fields provide students with the opportunity to explore potential college and career pathways. They also provide students an early opportunity to complete gateway college courses leading to postsecondary certificates and degrees in high-demand fields such as information technology, health professions, business, and engineering and industrial technology. In many cases, high schools and area career centers can realign their offerings with college curricula and/or expand the range of courses offered to students through the breadth of the college offerings. Successful partnerships offer students sequences of courses that lead to college-issued technical certificates or degrees and/or industry-based credentials.

How does the strategy create more equitable access and opportunities?

Technical courses are more likely to be hands-on, applied, and performance-based, thus providing opportunities for students with a wider range of learning styles – who are often underrepresented in higher education – to succeed in dual enrollment coursework. In contrast to general education courses, college rules around student eligibility and teacher credentialing tend to have greater flexibility – thus expanding access to more students to take dual enrollment courses. Additionally, college partnerships help to elevate the reputation and rigor of Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs in the school community. Students who participate in CTE dual enrollment programs value the ability to earn college credit and accelerate their attainment of postsecondary technical credentials. In most states, dual enrollment courses are provided for free or at a very reduced cost, saving families money on college.

What outcomes or benefits are associated with the strategy?

A Community College Research Center study of an effort by 8 California communities that expanded access to dual enrollment in career and technical fields found participating students were:

Broadening the Benefits: Reaching Underachieving and Underrepresented Students with Career-Focused Programs

What are the budget implications for implementing the strategy?

The cost of dual enrollment programs varies widely from state to state, as well as the course delivery model used. In some states there are financial incentives for schools to increase student participation in dual enrollment programs, particularly in CTE subjects. Perkins V specifically references expanding access to CTE dual enrollment as an allowable use of local funds, through investments in program expenses such as equipment, materials, transportation, curriculum development, professional development, coordination, and advising. Generally speaking, Perkins funds cannot be used for individual student expenses such as tuition and fees, though Perkins V does have a provision that allows for funds to be used to reduce or eliminate out-of-pocket expenses for special populations (defined as students with disabilities, students who are low income, single parents, displaced homemakers, and English language learners).

Common costs include:

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How will the strategy limit significant recurring costs while ensuring long-term sustainability?

A key aspect of financial sustainability for career-aligned dual enrollment pathways is to maximize the alignment between high school and college offerings to reduce redundancy for students and schools. Expensive technical course equipment can be used by both high school students and adult students, at either a career center, high school, or college location. Additionally, this equipment may require upfront investments but can be used by students year after year. High school teachers with appropriate education, work experience, and industry credentials can be appointed as adjuncts by a community or technical college. Alternatively, colleges can assign faculty to teach dual enrollment sections in subjects high schools do not have an instructor for.

What is the anticipated timeline for launching the strategy?

At most colleges, a new dual enrollment course section must be established by spring for fall enrollment to ensure faculty recruitment or selection, training, and course enrollment. Building partnerships that include sequences of courses that lead certificates or degrees in technical fields typically takes at least a year of planning.

What internal and/or external capacity (e.g. personnel, infrastructure, training, etc.) is needed to launch the strategy? To monitor and sustain it?


  • School leadership capacity to develop partnerships and pathways maps. This could be a Career Center Director, Assistant Principal, Guidance Counselor, Career Counselor, or CTE Department Chair.
  • High school instructors selected as adjuncts by the college need to undergo training in course curriculum and assessment prior to teaching for the college for the first time.
  • High schools delivering courses in new fields may need specialized equipment or software.

Monitor and Sustain

  • As students begin to take sequences of courses, college and career advising becomes a critical need that should be addressed collaboratively by the high school and college partner.
Scale Enrollment Pathways - Invest Forward
Career-Aligned Dual Enrollment - Invest Forward

What are the first 3-5 steps to take to implement the strategy?

  1. Identify postsecondary certificates and associate’s degrees that lead to high-demand, high-wage jobs in your community.
  2. Determine dual enrollment funding model and partnership development processes in nearby community and technical colleges, as well as applied programs offered by comprehensive universities (such as nursing, engineering, information technology, communications technologies, etc.)
  3. Build relationships with college/university partners
  4. Create pathways maps for selected career clusters for grades 9-14 that include dual enrollment courses

What are potential challenges for implementing the strategy?

  1. Challenge: Strength of partner college’s dual enrollment program
  2. Challenge: Shortage of instructors qualified to teach in high-demand fields (e.g. such as nursing)
    • Solution: Consider non-traditional instructors, such as part-time college adjuncts, or teaching classes at non-traditional times
  3. Challenge: Students participate in “random acts” of dual enrollment
    • Solution: Ensure that all career programs of study include an aligned dual enrollment course or option to earn an industry-recognized credential, where appropriate

What are models of schools, districts, and/or organizations that are successfully implementing this strategy?

  • National Academy Foundation – supports 400 high schools featuring small career academies with strong college and career pathways and work-based learning.
  • Linked Learning Alliance – supports integrated, college and career preparation approaches featuring structured sequences of college preparatory and technical courses.
  • P-TECH – a 9-14 school model where students earn a high school diploma, an industry-recognized associate degree, and work experience in a growing field.
  • Kirkwood Community College (Cedar Rapids, Iowa) – offers collections of dual enrollment courses focused around specific college pathways in 40 area high schools, and four regional centers – including one located on the University of Iowa campus.
  • Area 31 Career Center (Indianapolis, Indiana) – offers students pathways in a dozen major career clusters, each of which features sequences of dual enrollment classes leading to technical certificates or associate’s degrees through Ivy Tech Community College or Vincennes University.

What are some additional resources for districts/states interested in implementing this strategy?