CELL at UIndy

Center of Excellence in Leadership of Learning

Early College Vs. Dual Credit

Two Methods, One Goal: College

People often ask, “Aren’t dual credit and Early College the same thing?” The simple answer is no. The concurrent enrollment programs differ in their approach to preparing students for postsecondary success. The majority of Indiana high schools offer dual credit, but less than 20 operate under the Early College High School model. Discover the differences between these two high school-to-college transition programs to decide which model is the best fit for your school. For the Indiana Commission for Higher Education’s Frequently-Asked Questions about Dual Credit, Click Here.


Dual Credit Early College High School


Dual credit classes are courses taken by high school students that can satisfy requirements for earning both a high school diploma and a college degree. Early College High School blends high school and college in a rigorous yet supportive program, compressing the time it takes to complete a high school diploma and the first two years of college.


Dual credit opportunities typically are available to high school juniors or seniors, but Indiana does not have a grade-level requirement for dual credit. Early College begins with 9th-grade students (and sometimes sooner) to prepare them for the rigors of college. Dual credit courses may be offered beginning in 9th or 10th grade.

Legislative Policy

Indiana law requires each high school to provide a minimum of two dual credit courses to all students who qualify to ensure they have the opportunity to gain college-level experience. Early College goes beyond the state minimum requirement to offer enough dual credit courses that students can complete up to an associate degree or the first two years toward a bachelor’s degree while in high school.


Students or families may be financially responsible for participating in dual credit courses beyond the state minimum guarantee. Tuition waivers may apply to low-income families. Early College schools generally absorb the majority of college course costs rather than transferring those expenses to students or their families.Tuition costs are often substantially reduced in Early College programs.

Degree Pathways

Dual credit classes often apply toward core or foundation courses required for a college degree. These classes typically do not comprise the majority of a student’s coursework or result in a particular course of study. Early College offers up to two years of dual credit coursework toward specific postsecondary degrees (e.g., Liberal Arts, General Studies, Health Careers).Another option some Early Colleges offer is a pathway to completing the general education core of courses required in most Indiana colleges and universities.

Postsecondary Partnerships

Dual credit may be offered through multiple higher education institutions. Early Colleges establish partnerships with one or more postsecondary institutions to enable students to accumulate credits toward a degree from the partner institution(s) or transfer them to another college.

Target Audience

Dual credit is open to any student who qualifies. Early Colleges are open to all students, but are tailored for first-generation college-goers, minorities, and socioeconomically disadvantaged students underrepresented in postsecondary education.

School Culture

Dual credit gives students a taste of college through a few select courses. Early College blends the high school and college curricula into one academic program using multiple courses leading to specific degree pathways. The model creates a college-going culture by integrating student’s high school and college experiences intellectually and socially.

Support Systems

Dual credit course supports vary by higher education institution and often are not part of a structured system. Early College provides students with a structured system of enhanced supports to accompany the increased rigor of college classes.


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