Dual credit programs at high schools across Indiana could be decimated by the implementation of more stringent degree requirements for the high school faculty members who teach the courses that give students a college jump.

Beginning with the 2017 school year, dual credit teachers must have a master’s degree in the subject area they teach, or a master’s degree in another area and at least 18 graduate credit hours in the subject being taught, according to the Higher Learning Commission, which accredits colleges in Indiana and a number of other states.

If teachers can’t meet those qualifications – and various estimates indicate that may be the vast majority now teaching – then schools would have to cut back drastically on dual credit offerings.

Preparation 101

“We’re doing a deep dive with out partner schools, as are other Ivy Tech campuses statewide, to see how many are properly credentialed or not,” said Andrew Welch, executive director of marketing and communications at Ivy Tech Community College Northeast.

The local campus partners with 55 schools in northeast Indiana and some in Ohio. Last year, the dual credit programs served about 10,700 students in northeast Indiana, saving them an estimated $4 million in tuition costs.

“Beyond saving students time and money, dual credit classes also help sway students to go to college,” Welch said in an email. “Before they take such a course, some students think that college will be too difficult for them. Success in a dual credit class can convince them that they can handle the rigors of college.”

Fort Wayne Community Schools has 6,600 student enrollments in dual credit programs this fall – some students take more than one class – through partner institutions, said spokeswoman Krista Stockman. The stepped-up requirements would be an issue for a lot of its teachers, she said.

Clarification

The Higher Learning Commission’s proposal is more a clarification of the rules for the 19 states it covers than an outright change, said Karen VanGorder, executive director of continuing studies at Indiana University - Purdue University Fort Wayne. But its impact could be considerable in Indiana, which went against the HLC several years ago when it relaxed requirements for master’s degrees and stopped providing financial incentives for teachers to get them.

Since teachers no longer get a good bump in salary for having a master’s degree, “to go through that extra expense, that’s quite a burden,” Stockman said.

The state also has implemented measures that may be discouraging people from teaching at all – witness the 63-percent drop the state recorded in the number of teaching licenses issued from 2010 to 2014.

“There’s a lot of things that were put in place that didn’t set us up to be prepared for this,” Stockman said.

Even back in the day, when Indiana expected teachers to get master’s degrees, it encouraged them to get those degrees in education. So, while all the instructors in dual credit courses offered through IPFW have an advanced degree, two-thirds of them have it in education and haven’t earned the requisite additional graduate hours in their subject area, VanGorder said.

‘Gut the program’

At an annual gathering of high school instructors who teach those classes through IPFW, a lot of them told VanGorder: “Nothing against you, but you understand that this change in policy, or this change in interpretation of policy, is going to gut this program.”

Teachers in their 50s, who received the education master’s they were told they should get – and who have been teaching dual credit courses for years – in particular feel betrayed because unless they get the additional graduate credit hours, they will no longer be able to teach those classes, VanGorder said.

Unless there is some grandfathering, and the higher learning commission seems to have indicated that they’re not going to grandfather people in, it won’t matter how much experience a teacher has if he or she doesn’t have the requisite degree and graduate credits, VanGorder said.

Most of the dual credit courses that Ivy Tech expects to be affected are the so-called general education, or core classes, that students need to earn an associate’s degree: math, science, English and perhaps a foreign language. Ivy Tech does not believe its career and technical courses will feel an impact.

The basic premise of dual credit courses is that high school students are getting something that is equivalent in content and learning objectives to what they would get in an actual college class. IPFW’s dual credit teachers consult with college faculty members to design those courses, with the goal that those credits will be acceptable not just at IPFW, but at almost any college students might choose to attend, VanGorder said.

The Bellmont Early College program at North Adams Community School Corp. allows students to earn enough credits to get them half-way to a bachelor’s degree by the time they graduate high school. FWCS has an early college program at North Side High School, offered through Vincennes University, and at Wayne High School, offered through Ivy Tech, that allows students to earn associate degrees by graduation.

Salvaging

The Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership has made higher education and a more skilled workforce a priority. Its Big Goal Collaborative, an initiative launched in 2012, is trying to raise the percentage of northeast Indiana residents with a college degree or professional certification or credential to 60 percent by 2025.

While the HLC proposal has caused a lot consternation in high schools across the state, and Indiana’s Higher Education Commission and Department of Education have been holding meetings to explore what might be done to salvage dual credit programs, Ivy Tech expects the requirements to stand.

“After we receive further guidance from HLC, we will be working with our high school partners to identify strategies that will continue to provide dual credit opportunities,” Ivy Tech said in a position paper. “We will continue to do everything we can to insure dual credit programming is held to appropriate standards while providing the benefits Indiana students deserve.”

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