Date of Award

Winter 12-16-2016

Level of Access Assigned by Author

Open-Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Higher Education Leadership


Susan K. Gardner, PhD

Second Committee Member

Elizabeth Allan, PhD

Third Committee Member

Leah Hakkola, PhD

Additional Committee Members

Sarah Mackenzie, EdD

Catharine Biddle, PhD


Exploring the Liminal Space: Dual Enrollment at Maine's Community Colleges

Only 39% of matriculated students will earn a college degree or certificate in six years due to inadequate preparation in high school (Center for Community College Student Engagement, 2016). Dual enrollment (DE) courses have been touted as one way to bridge the gap between high school and college (Hanson, Prusha, & Iverson, 2015; Harnish & Lynch, 2005; Johnson & Brophy, 2006; Karp, Calcagno, Hughes, Jeong, & Bailey, 2007; Morrison, 2008; Smith, 2007; Swanson, 2008). Dual enrollment is broadly defined as any course in which a high school student earns college credit (Andrews, 2004; Johnson & Brophy, 2006; Jordan, Cavalluzzo, & Corallo, 2006; Karp et al., 2007; Welsh, Brake, & Choi, 2005). In Maine, a lack of college readiness and a high demand for remedial courses are salient issues that may be addressed through DE access (Governor's Task Force, 2012; Langhauser, 2015; Page, 2016).

The Maine Community College System (MCCS) offers a wide variety of dual enrollment programs designed to meet the specific needs of Maine’s students (Maine Community College System, 2016a, 2016b). This study utilizes the lens of Critical Systems Theory (Watson & Watson, 2011) to determine how the variation in DE courses within the MCCS influences student access and experiences. Employing a mixed-methods design integrating qualitative and quantitative methods, I compared the perceptions of DE leaders at both the high school and college level to the perceptions of DE students. The data gathered from interviews with DE leaders, student surveys, and student enrollment data suggests that DE programs within the MCCS provide college access to a unique, underrepresented student demographic, yet this access may be unequal due to variation in the relationships between individual high schools and colleges.