Unlocking the Potential of College in High School for Students with Disabilities

Published:
Topics: Early College High School, Education Equity

States leaders are increasingly working to expand access to and improve equity in college in high school programs that provide secondary students with the opportunity to earn college credit. These courses provide students with valuable opportunities to personalize their K–12 learning journey and have been shown to improve postsecondary outcomes.

However, students with disabilities are too often excluded from these opportunities.

In late 2019, the College in High School Alliance (CHSA) released Unlocking Potential: A State Policy Roadmap for Equity and Quality in College in High School Programs. This roadmap provides a six-part policy framework for promoting equitable access to high-quality college in high school programs, as well as examples from 28 states with noteworthy policies in these areas. As CHSA has supplemented this roadmap with additional resources, it identified a need to create an aligned resource targeted specifically towards improving participation and completion in these programs for students with disabilities. Unlocking Potential: A State Policy Roadmap for Equity and Quality in College in High School Programs for Students with Disabilities details a range of specific policy goals with accompanying strategies designed to increase participation in college in high school programs for students with disabilities.

Opportunities for students with disabilities to participate in college in high school programs are worth expanding because of their impacts. Read more about the why and how.
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Students with disabilities make up 12.7 percent of the school population nationally, yet they only represent 3.9 percent of students enrolled in dual enrollment courses – the largest representation gap in dual enrollment among all groups that have been historically disadvantaged. Research has shown that college completion leads to improved employment outcomes, and high-quality college in high school programs lead to increased access and success in postsecondary education. There is no reason to believe that the same theory of action wouldn’t also apply to students with disabilities.

Using the Unlocking Potential framework, this new resource offers detailed policy recommendations to expand access and success for students with disabilities in college in high school programs.

Key takeaways

  • Inclusive vision – State policymakers should review all policies related to college in high school programs to ensure that students with disabilities are intentionally and explicitly included. This will send a clear message to schools, districts and postsecondary institutions to encourage participation for these students.
  • Explicit design – State and school leaders should design and implement college in high school programs and policies as a strategy to improve outcomes for students with disabilities. Compliance with disability laws is only the starting point, improving access and success in these programs is the goal.
  • Supportive guidance – State leaders should develop and issue field guidance for both secondary and postsecondary stakeholders on the range of programs, services and funding streams that can be used to support students with disabilities in dual enrollment.

Students with disabilities face many unique barriers to participating in college in high school programs, and states must begin explicitly designing policies to remedy this if they hope to address the pervasive equity gaps among this student demographic.

How can we redefine postsecondary to include lifelong learning?