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Taking courses for college credit while in high school may be a good way to get a head start on an expensive higher education—and graduate on time—but new research in Illinois says it’s more available to kids in wealthier than in low-income, schools, who already do well academically.

“These data suggest there are large inequities in students’ access to college courses.” –Study coauthor Jason Taylor

A study by the Illinois Education Research Council at Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville found that more students were enrolled in dual-credit college courses in high school students in suburban and rural areas with larger enrollments of whites and smaller numbers of low-income families, and that excelled in such things as grades, test scores, and attendance.

Urban areas serving larger proportions of low-income and nonwhite students, including Chicago, had much lower rates of participation, the researchers found.

Previous studies have shown that students who take college courses while in high school are more likely to go on to higher education, and take less time to graduate than their counterparts who don’t.

Some 1.3 million students took classes for university credit before completing high school during the 2010-2011 academic year, according to new figures from the U.S. Department of Education. That’s up 67 percent since 2003.

Eight out of 10 high schools nationwide offer university-level courses to their students, the department found.

The Illinois research followed all the Illinois high school students in the Class of 2003. It found that the proportion who took dual-enrollment courses ranged from zero to 88 percent, depending on what high school they attended.

“These data suggest there are large inequities in students’ access to college courses,” coauthor Jason Taylor said.

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Jon Marcus, higher-education editor, has written about higher education for the Washington Post, USA Today, Time, the Boston Globe, Washington Monthly, is North America higher-education correspondent for...

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