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Closing the Equity Gap in Dual Enrollment for Rhode Island’s Differently-Abled Students

April 4, 2023

Early college opportunities offer enormous benefits for students and families. These opportunities help high school students earn valuable college credit for free and prepare them for college level work. They also improve students’ chances of graduating high school, enrolling in college and completing college degrees on time. Similar to their peers, students with disabilities stand to gain tremendously from these programs.

Rhode Island has worked diligently to increase access to these programs for all students. However, equity gaps continue to persist, especially for students with disabilities, which Rhode Island refers to as “differently-abled students.” The state is well poised to improve dual enrollment participation and achievement for all students, including those who are differently abled.

Through the joint efforts of the Rhode Island Department of Higher Education and the Office of the Postsecondary Commissioner, Rhode Island was chosen to receive technical assistance from the College in High School Alliance (CHSA). CHSA, with support from its Steering Committee member organization KnowledgeWorks and Think Inclusion, has been supporting Rhode Island’s efforts to increase dual enrollment participation for differently-abled students.

“Rhode Island has tremendous potential to personalize learning for all students through early college credit opportunities,” said Jon Alfuth, KnowledgeWorks senior director of state policy. “We are excited to see how this work will lead to increased opportunities for all students, including those who are differently abled.”

Using their recently released framework focused on college in high school programs for students with disabilities, CHSA created a unique landscape analysis for Rhode Island. This policy roadmap identifies both the barriers faced by Rhode Island’s differently-abled students in accessing dual enrollment and lays out specific action steps Rhode Island can take to address these barriers.

“Rhode Island has several important foundational pieces in place to build on,” said Karla Philips-Krivickas of Think Inclusion. “I believe that this analysis can help Rhode Island become a national leader in showing how states can expand access to these important opportunities for differently-abled students.”

These recommendations come on the heels of the recent overhaul of Rhode Island’s new graduation requirements. The new graduation standards were designed to address a recent audit that revealed although 80 percent of Rhode Island high school students wanted to attend college, just 60 percent enrolled in the courses necessary to be eligible for higher education and only about 50 percent passed those classes. Even more concerning was the discovery that only 12 percent of students with disabilities completed college prep coursework.

Early college opportunities, including dual enrollment should be part of the strategy to address this.

Rhode Island is already collecting and disaggregating the data necessary to increase equity and this report lays out clear steps the state can take to increase access and support success.

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