Providing students with workforce-relevant academic preparation in high school is essential to ensuring more students have the postsecondary credentials necessary for careers that offer economic independence.

Early postsecondary opportunities (EPSOs) — courses or exams that provide students the opportunity to earn postsecondary credit while still in high school — are an important part of Tennessee’s strategy to ensure high school students are prepared to find success in postsecondary education, career, and life.

Research suggests participation in EPSOs can be an effective strategy for improving postsecondary preparation, enrollment, and persistence. Over the last several years, Tennessee has made strides in expanding EPSO access and participation, but more work remains to be done.

SCORE’s new report, Building A Vision For Early Postsecondary Opportunities, analyzes publicly available data as well as data collected from district leaders across Tennessee to better understand participation, success, and practice in early postsecondary opportunities.

The report offers key insight into barriers to EPSO participation, students’ success in EPSO courses, and promising practices districts and schools are using to expand EPSO participation and success.

Key Findings
  • Publicly available data on EPSO participation and success are limited. District leaders need more and better data for all EPSO offerings to effectively evaluate and improve their academic programming.
  • There are racial gaps in dual enrollment participation at community and technical colleges. Black and Hispanic students are underrepresented in dual enrollment participation compared to White students. They are also enrolling in less impactful courses compared to White students.
  • Most dual enrollment students attempt and earn six credit hours or fewer while in high school. Compared to White students, Black and Hispanic students take fewer dual enrollment classes and earn fewer college credits.
  • Interviews with district leaders suggest several barriers to student success in early postsecondary opportunities, including the lack of a clear vision for EPSO success, the need for more academic supports, and stronger advising and support during the summer to ensure students make a successful transition to postsecondary education.
SCORE Recommendations
  • Conduct a statewide audit of all EPSO offerings to better understand which students are taking and succeeding in EPSOs, as well as the impact of different EPSO offerings on students’ future success.
  • Make participation and success data for all EPSO offerings available via an annual EPSO report and/or statewide EPSO dashboard. Include participation and success data for university dual enrollment.
  • Consider if and how to revise the Ready Graduate indicator to better align with a cohesive statewide vision for EPSOs, as well as other college and career readiness policies.

As our state continues to look for ways to address the recent college-going decline and better align K-12, postsecondary, and workforce systems, we hope this report and the accompanying EPSO practice considerations one-pager will provide leaders, practitioners, and policymakers with practical insights and recommendations for strengthening early postsecondary opportunities.   

Dr. Richard Bailey is SCORE’s director of strategic practice.