New Rules on Teachers’ Qualifications Put Dual Enrollment at Risk
No community college initiative of recent vintage has grown faster, garnered more public and policymaker support and produced more promising results than dual enrollment.
Giving students working toward a high school diploma the chance to also earn college credit has been praised for its myriad benefits: reducing the cost of college, instilling students with a sense of confidence in their own abilities, speeding students on their path toward a college degree.
But high school students throughout the Midwest are at risk of losing access to dual enrollment courses because of new requirements that teachers have a master’s degree, or at least graduate-level credits, in the dual enrollment subjects they are teaching.
The change could be a major blow to a growing number of students who rely on dual-enrollment classes to earn early college credits and get a jump start on their college educations.
At issue is a policy clarification by the Higher Learning Commission, the country’s largest regional accreditor, which accredits nearly 1,000 colleges and universities in 19 Midwestern states. The clarification said that all instructional college faculty — including high school teachers teaching dual credit courses — must have a master’s degree in the subject they are teaching or at least 18 graduate-level credit hours within that specialty.
Many high school teachers teaching dual enrollment courses fall short of the requirement. Many have just bachelors’ degrees. Numerous others have master’s degrees, but they are frequently in education, pedagogy or curriculum, not in a specific subject area.
The HLC’s decision has prompted a furious pushback from many of the affected states. Policy makers there said the HLC’s clarification is a solution in search of a problem. While a lack of rigor is implicit in the HLC’s decision, there is ample evidence that the courses are carefully reviewed and that students are benefitting from dual enrollment courses.
“Part of the problem is that the HLC is acting imperiously,” said Joe Nathan, senior fellow at the Center for School Change, a Minnesota-based non-profit education reform group. “It is an unfortunate example of higher education at its worst. They made the decision without discussion with the people in the high schools.”
Mark Clausen is a Minnesota state senator with more than 40 years of experience as a teacher, principal and administrator. He is urging the commission to allow alternative paths authorizing high school teachers to teach dual enrollment classes.
“The HLC proposed policy will negatively impact thirty years of development of and investment in concurrent enrollment programs for Minnesota schools,” he wrote in a letter to the commission. “The new credentialing proposal will threaten the ability in many communities to offer these highly- 0successful research based courses.
“We suggest that HLC continue to approve the use of alternative, holistic qualifications for academic faculty. Alternatives to standard qualifications are used on campuses when a clear academic or professional need emerges, a sound rationale exists and there is support from stakeholders.”
The HLC, for its part, said the policy clarification merely underscores what has long been an expectation on the educational qualifications of college instructors.
“The requirement ensures that students, including dual enrollment students, have a faculty member who has college-level expertise in the subject matter of the class,” the commission said in a statement. “An expert faculty member is a critical element in ensuring that dual enrollment students have a college experience that is as rigorous as the college experience they would have had by taking the same class on campus from a college faculty member.”
The new rule is scheduled to go into effect in September 2017, though the commission has said states and institutions could apply for a five-year waiver. In the meantime, states are working to find ways to help high school teachers meet the new requirements. The Indiana Association of School Principals estimates that 90 percent of that state’s teachers would fall short of the new standard.
Community colleges, meanwhile, are studying how to salvage the partnerships they have forged with high schools to provide dual enrollment courses. John Newby, assistant vice-president of K-12 initiatives at Ivy Tech Community College, said about 600 high school teachers with whom the college now works to provide dual enrollment courses would not qualify to teach under the new rules.
By law, every high school in the state must provide at least two dual enrollment classes. The vast majority are offered through partnerships with Ivy Tech.
“There are so many pieces to this puzzle,” he said. “We are talking about all the issues. One of the biggest is how do you incentivize teachers to go back into the classroom and meet the new criteria.”
“It’s not rocket science. Teachers will need an incentive, whether it’s a bonus or a step up in the salary scale.”
Newby said about 70 percent of the high school teachers who teach liberal arts courses through Ivy Tech partnerships would not qualify. The new rules do not apply to technical courses.
“To lose 70 percent, that’s a huge negative impact,” he said.
That dual enrollment has been increasing rapidly is undeniable. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, about 15,000 public high schools enrolled students in college courses in 2010. Between 2002 and 2011, dual enrollment grew by more than 7 percent every year. About 1.3 million high school students took courses for college credit within a dual enrollment program in 2011.
But as dual enrollment programs have grown in popularity, so have concerns for the quality of the course offerings.
A 2015 report by the Education Commission of the States put it this way: “The goal of dual enrollment — and one of the drivers of significant growth in dual enrollment participation in recent years — is to provide high school students with an authentic college course experience resulting in transferable college credit and, ideally, to shorten the time to and cost of postsecondary degree completion. However, in the absence of policies to safeguard the quality of dual enrollment courses and instructors, those courses delivered in high schools by high school instructors risk not delivering on the potential of dual enrollment.”
“The majority of dual enrollment courses today are delivered by high school instructors on high school campuses. This makes it critical for states to ensure that course content and instructor qualifications align with those for traditional postsecondary courses.”
Adam Lowe, executive director of the National Alliance of Concurrent Enrollment Partnerships, said his 375-member group has developed a set of 17 standards for dual enrollment programs that have been adopted in whole or in part by eight states. The standards are designed to ensure that authentic college experiences are offered in high schools.
“Especially early on, there was concern about quality as more people were riding the wave,” he said. “The challenge is to provide a set of standards that apply to all the models of concurrent enrollment. We don’t want courses that are watered down. When you see an enrollment spike, there need to be steps to keep quality in place.”
According to the ECS, 37 states have policies that set expectations for course quality and instructor qualifications. They vary widely from state to state.
States like Minnesota and Indiana contend that they already carefully monitor the quality of dual enrollment courses. Teachers in Minnesota who teach dual enrollment classes, for example, are trained and supervised by higher education faculty. The curriculum is designed by colleges. Research has shown that students participating in concurrent enrollment were twice as likely to graduate from high school, twice as likely to enter some form of higher education and almost twice as likely to graduate from some form of higher education as those who did not.
Ivy Tech’s Newby believes the success of dual enrollment students is the most germain piece of data.
“Students are more successful,” he said. “They have better retention rates. They graduate faster. Show me the data that says students are not doing as well. We have a rigorous review process. We have been meeting the standards. To have this happen, it’s just mind-blowing.”