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The Journal Gazette

Tuesday, March 15, 2016 6:15 pm

Higher ed rules shift perplexing for schools

Niki Kelly | The Journal Gazette

INDIANAPOLIS – Indiana education officials are rallying around a program that has helped propel thousands of Indiana high school students into college.

Indiana’s dual-credit system has more than doubled in the number of high school students taking advantage of the courses and the college credit hours earned in the last three years.

And it’s not just about the honors students.

"The real push on this is to help not only the bright students but maybe the first-generation students who never thought college was an option," said Ann Brown, coordinator of the Collegiate Connection program at IPFW. "We give them a taste of the rigors of college and show them they can be successful in that."

But the program saving students millions by jump-starting college careers might lose a large number of teachers who can instruct those classes because of a change in eligibility requirements.

"It’s a bad deal. To say these teachers who have successfully been leading students into higher education are all the sudden not capable is wrong," said Homestead High School Principal Park Ginder. "If you chase the worm, this is about colleges losing money."

State law requires all high schools to offer advanced placement and dual-credit ­classes. State funding goes to the colleges, who work with high school teachers to instruct the courses. 

IPFW is one of the state’s top dual-credit providers – working with 42 schools across northeast Indiana. Just this year there are 256 different courses being provided through almost 200 instructors. And this fall 3,540 students are enrolled in those classes.

Last year statewide more than 66,500 students took dual-credit courses. And almost 360,000 college credit hours were earned.

Teresa Lubbers, Indiana’s higher education commissioner, said students with dual credits are more likely to go to college, have higher grade-point averages when they get there and more likely to persist.

"Overall it increases the likelihood that students will do better when they get to college," she said.

She also noted that these courses save students and parents millions in tuition, and allow students to use extra time to double major.

But all that is threatened by a change in rule or inter­pretation – depending on whom you ask – by the Higher Learning Commission.

The Higher Learning Commission is one of six regional accreditors in the United States. It accredits degree-granting post-secondary educational institutions in 19 states, including Indiana. It is not the state higher education commission.

The rule affects all who teach college credit courses but has a major impact on dual credit.

It requires a high school teacher to hold a master’s degree to teach a dual-credit course. But it’s a secondary factor that is causing the big problem. It also requires those teachers to have 18 master-level credit hours in the subject matter they are teaching.

Previously the policy said teachers must have credentials consistent with those required for on-campus faculty or have a development plan approved by the college to satisfy the requirement.

The end result could mean teachers just walking away from dual credit or having to go back to graduate school to get more hours.

The Higher Learning Commission released a statement to The Journal Gazette saying a June 2015 revision regarding faculty qualifications states explicitly in policy what has been a longstanding expectation that has been reflected in various written forms in previous years.

"The requirement ensures that students, including dual credit students, have a faculty member who has college-level expertise in the subject matter of the class," said John Hausaman, spokesman for the commission. "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.

Lubbers said no one knows exactly how many teachers it affects out of the 2,900 teachers providing dual-credit courses. The Indiana Department of Education is considering a comprehensive survey.

Anecdotally, some colleges have said hundreds of teachers will be affected. Brown didn’t know the number for IPFW.

Ginder said Homestead offers dozens of dual-credit courses through several different colleges or universities. They include business law and ethics; computer programming; web design and business management.

He said 23 teachers will maintain eligibility to teach under the new rules, but 32 are in question.

Ginder said many of those have a master’s degree in a different specialty – like administration – from the exact content area of the dual-credit course they are teaching.

"Our university partners said these people are capable. All the sudden the rules are changing and suddenly they are not," he said. "They are outstanding teachers. To change the expectation on the fly is inappropriate."

Lubbers and Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz are working together to try to halt the change. The Higher Learning Commission has already pushed the effective date of the policy from January 2016 to January 2017.

Ritz said one change that could be helpful is grandfathering in current dual-credit teachers under the old rules and requiring the new rules for new teachers.

"And where’s the evidence showing that having these 18 hours means they are better prepared?" she asked. "A lot of high school teachers are feeling like, "what do you mean? I’m a professional."

A dual-credit advisory council has kicked back into action, and has a second meeting scheduled for Nov. 23.