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Only 44.7% of working-age adults in Florida hold an associate’s degree or higher. While Asian and white Floridians earn degrees at a rate higher than the state average, Hispanic, American Indian/Alaskan Native and Black residents have the lowest rates. There is a double-digit percentage point gap separating white and Black Floridians.

In addition to offering scholarships and underwriting student support programs, the non-profit Helios Education Foundation this year is working with the Florida Department of Education and WestEd, a non-partisan, nonprofit education research and consulting firm, to produce new insights into the impact of providing students with access to college courses while still in high school.

Education researchers long ago concluded that introducing high school students to college-level work improves their chances of attending college, shortens the time it takes for them to earn degrees and lowers costs and student debt burdens. But the new research shows that accelerated coursework is also a tool for addressing achievement gaps in degree attainment.

In 2021, Helios launched the Florida Black Student Success Strategy, targeting the Tampa Bay region, Central Florida and South Florida. Accelerated coursework can be Advanced Placement classes, dual enrollment with one of Florida’s public colleges or community colleges, International Baccalaureate programs or one of a series of other programs that allow students to earn college credit.

For students who entered the ninth grade in the 2015-16 school year, 53% participated in at least one accelerated course. AP was the most popular type of course, with 47% participating. Twenty-three percent participated in dual enrollment and 4% participated in an IB course. Twenty percent of students took more than one type of accelerated course.

Overall, students who took an AP course were 1.2 times more likely to attain an associate’s degree and three times more likely to earn a bachelor’s degree at one of Florida’s public higher education institutions. Students who took a dual enrollment course were 1.8 times more likely to complete an associate’s degree and 1.7 times more likely to complete a bachelor’s degree. Notably, Black students were substantially more likely to attain a bachelor’s degree (more so than an associate’s degree) if they participated in AP or dual enrollment.

“We’re not really here to say which one is better,” between Advanced Placement and dual enrollment courses, says Paul Perrault, Helios’ senior vice president for community impact and learning, who led the research team on the project. “It’s that college-level experience that is most important.”

The most significant barrier might just be getting students to take the accelerated courses at all. Even though there’s no cost for students to take the college-level courses, just 53% of the students whose records were examined took even one accelerated course, the Helios and WestEd research shows. For policymakers, the question now is what needs to be done to ensure more students have access to programs that give them a head start on college, the research team says.

Florida’s Honors Colleges

Program / College / City / Students

  • Honors Program / UF / Gainesville / 2,833
  • Judy Genshaft Honors College / USF / Tampa / 2,567
  • Honors College / FIU / Miami / 2,559
  • Honors Program / FSU / Tallahassee / 1,876
  • Burnett Honors College / UCF / Orlando / 1,875
  • Honors College / FGCU / Fort Myers / 1,089
  • Hicks Honor College / UNF / Jacksonville / 882
  • New College of Florida* / Sarasota / 689
  • Harriet L. Wilkes Honors College / FAU / Jupiter / 580
  • University Honors Program / FAU / Boca Raton / 362
  • Kugelman Honors Program / UWF / Pensacola / 164
  • Honors in the Major / FAU / Boca Raton/ Davie / 19
  • Honors Program / FAMU / Tallahassee / NA

*New College of Florida is an honors college. Other listed schools have honors colleges or programs within them. Research by Vanessa Caceres