The growth of university subjects within secondary schools: implications for student equity

Year: 2019

Author: Harvey, Andrew, Taylor, Jason, Luckman, Michael

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

This paper addresses the rise and implications of dual enrolment within Australian secondary schools. Prominent in the United States (US), dual enrolment involves students enrolling in a college/university subject while simultaneously being enrolled in their secondary school, typically during their final year of study. In Australia, university courses are taught in secondary schools across each state, although while enrolments are growing they remain well below levels of US dual enrolment.

The growth of dual enrolment reflects the ‘universal’ stage of higher education according to Trow’s typology, where university is becoming an increasingly popular transition for many school students. Closer alignment between the secondary school and higher education sectors is a logical result of the normalisation of higher education for large and diverse cohorts. However, the phenomenon of dual enrolment also raises important questions of student equity. Not all schools enable students to undertake a fast-track to university, and not all students are willing or able to study additional subjects while in school. In addition, Australian states and territories currently adopt different levels of credit and recognition for higher education studies within schools, leading to diversity but also inequity across the country.

Our research began by exploring the origins of dual enrolment in the US, where the American National Center for Education Statistics estimates that over one third of high school graduates took a college course while in high school. University courses were historically often introduced into secondary schools to provide more rigorous courses for those who were already college-bound, but in more recent years many state and local objectives have evolved to explicitly serve under-represented and minoritized students.

In Australia, by contrast, there has been little discussion of the potential equity implications of dual enrolment and there is scarce public data available across states and territories. Our research suggests that most dual enrolment courses are offered by the most selective universities and are likely to be delivered to students in positions of academic and financial advantage. We argue that dual enrolment could potentially provide an important role in connecting the secondary and higher education sectors, but that greater transparency and equity are required to ensure effectiveness of the model nationwide.