One Part of the EPSO Puzzle: Statewide Dual Credit Prepares Students for Postsecondary

By Matthew Roberts, Division of College, Career, and Technical Education

In the past four years, 3,523 high school students have earned 10,569 college credit hours through an early postsecondary opportunity (EPSO) unique to Tennessee: statewide dual credit (SDC). SDC courses are college-level classes developed by postsecondary faculty and taught by high school teachers in a high school. At the end of the course, students take a challenge exam, and if they meet a certain cut score, they bank college credit that transfers to any public postsecondary institution in the state. SDC offers a chance for schools to expand their EPSO offerings—and these classes are offered at no cost to students.

Annually, SDC teachers participate in training led by experienced secondary and postsecondary facilitators to plan out their year and ensure their instruction matches the rigor of a postsecondary classroom. At the beginning of each training session, a panel of experienced SDC teachers and postsecondary faculty share best practices and lessons learned with the attendees. Conversations center around a key idea of SDC: Students should know that EPSOs are about more than earning credit for postsecondary.

One teacher from East Tennessee explained, “Statewide dual credit isn’t just about a score on a challenge exam. Instead, it shows students the expectations with which they will be faced in the next part of their education.” Panelist David Toye, a faculty member from Northeast State Community College, noted, “Statewide dual credit challenges students to meet the standards of postsecondary before they step foot on our campuses. Tell students of the benefits of this preparation, as well as the opportunity to earn college credit.”

This end-goal is echoed by Patrice Watson, director of early postsecondary. She explains, “EPSOs help students enroll and persist in postsecondary. We know that taking just one EPSO increases the likelihood of obtaining a postsecondary credential.” As our state continues to focus on the Drive to 55 and increasing the number of Tennesseans with postsecondary degrees, EPSOs like statewide dual credit are a necessary tool to introduce students to the world of postsecondary and propel them to a credential. And this credential is a key tool for preparing them for a career in their community.

Currently, nine SDC courses are offered across the state. Introduction to agriculture business, introduction to plant science, and introduction to sociology have been fully implemented, while American history, Criminal Justice II, pre-calculus, psychology, statistics, and world history are still being piloted; however, students can still earn college credit during the pilot phase of implementation. Soon, these options are going to expand with the addition of more SDC courses. Tandra Martin, program manager for early postsecondary, notes, “As we expand SDC courses, schools have a unique opportunity to offer a portfolio of options. Eight EPSOs, including SDC, are offered across the state. This is a perfect time for schools and districts to expand the options available to students to ensure students have access to multiple types of EPSOs.”

Even if your school does not currently offer SDC, there are ways that you can incorporate the teaching strategies used in SDC into your classroom. For instance, in postsecondary courses, and in SDC courses, students are encouraged to engage with material outside of the classroom in order to take a more active role in their learning. Mirroring the rigor students will face prepares them for the next step in their education. Teachers can reach out to local postsecondary instructors to understand what other strategies or assignments they could use to mirror postsecondary expectations, such as assignments that require strong analytical writing and reading skills.

EPSOs like SDC are an important part of the Pathways TN framework. Being prepared for a career in your community now requires a postsecondary credential in one’s chosen path, and EPSOs allow students to earn credit toward that credential before they finish high school. For questions about EPSOs, visit the department’s EPSO website, contact, or follow @TN_EPSO on Twitter. To learn more about Pathways TN, email or follow @Pathways_TN on Twitter.