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  • Writer's pictureKarla Phillips-Krivickas

3 Steps to Include Students with Disabilities in Dual Enrollment

Updated: Sep 19, 2023

Dual enrollment increases students’ chances of graduating from high school as well as enrolling in college and completing. A new report reveals all but a few Arizona students with disabilities are missing out on these benefits, yet there are three steps the state can take to reach more students.

The Helios Foundation released Arizona’s first-ever dual enrollment report. For students with disabilities, the news is good and bad.

First the good news.

  • The study confirms that Arizona’s dual enrollment students were more likely to go to college than their non-dual enrollment peers. And this increased likelihood was even higher for students with disabilities! Plus, students with disabilities that participated in dual enrollment were more likely to persist in college.

Now the bad news.

  • Tucked away in a report footnote we find that the participation rate for students with disabilities was so low it couldn’t be reported. This means there were fewer than 2% of students with disabilities taking dual enrollment courses. This is shocking considering that 13% of Arizona students have a disability.

The Helios report exposes astonishing inequities. But it should do more than just make us squirm. It’s time to examine the data and take the following three steps to correct our state’s course.

1. Set a goal to reduce the participation gap.

The alarming data in the Helios report offers Arizona a golden opportunity. The state could begin to collect this new dataset annually and incorporate it into school report cards and the college and career index. Disaggregating this data by the 13 disabilities identified by federal law would align with the data in the Arizona Board of Regents Postsecondary Attainment report and could help the state identify the schools providing equity to discover how to replicate these exemplary programs.

Here’s how some other states incorporate this data into school report cards:

  • Florida’s State Report Card includes participation data in dual enrollment courses under College and Career Acceleration as part of the state’s accountability framework that can be disaggregated by disability status.

  • Kentucky Report Cards disaggregate participation in dual credit programs, as part of the Educational Opportunities, into over a dozen student subgroups, including students with disabilities.

  • Rhode Island Report Cards include dual and concurrent enrollment participation as part of a Postsecondary Success Index that is disaggregated by all subgroups, including students with disabilities.

2. Clarify who is responsible for providing services.

In Arizona, dual enrollment courses are taught on a K-12 campus. Since students with disabilities already receive special education services at their home campuses, extending these services to dual enrollment courses should be manageable.

The state policy roadmap for students with disabilities from the College in High School Alliance shows policymakers how other states are ensuring students with disabilities in dual enrollment courses continue to receive the services to which they are entitled.

  • Illinois, Minnesota, and Oregon require in state statute that individualized education programs (IEPs) and 504 plans for special education services be honored in dual enrollment courses.

  • Montana and Florida have stipulated that decisions over student services be reflected in the intergovernmental agreements between higher education institutions and school districts. At a minimum, these agreements should name funding options, identify training needs for staff, and require a process to ensure students with disabilities experience successful transitions to dual enrollment.

3. Develop new resources to strengthen transition planning.

When students with disabilities turn 16, their individualized education programs (IEPs) must include a plan for their transition to post-school life. These plans are often underutilized in facilitating dual enrollment participation, but they should be the foundation for students’ postsecondary pathways.

The Arizona Department of Education could consider the following steps from the College in High School policy roadmap to reach important student postsecondary goals for students with disabilities.

  • Develop guidance and training for special education staff on how dual enrollment can be incorporated into IEPs as a transition service for students who have postsecondary education goals.

  • Communicate how federal funds can be used to support students with disabilities’ participation in dual enrollment.

  • Partner with Raising Special Kids to increase families’ awareness of dual enrollment opportunities.

Solving Arizona’s Postsecondary Crisis

Thousands of Arizona students with disabilities are missing from dual enrollment classes, postsecondary courses, and college graduations. By pairing dual enrollment with strong IEP transition plans, Arizona can equip these students to achieve academically and advocate for their own success in college.

Only 17% of our state’s high school graduates with disabilities enroll in any postsecondary education within one year of graduation, compared to 46% of students without disabilities. Worse yet, only 8% of students with disabilities from the class of 2015 attained any postsecondary credential–even though the vast majority of students qualifying for special education services can be expected to reach the same level of academic achievement as their peers without disabilities.

Dual enrollment is a proven bridge from high school to college and career, and it could help solve this crisis.


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