Could new policy shutter dual-credit courses?
The concurrent enrollment classes that help many Minnesota high school students save on college costs face an obstacle with recent changes to instructor accreditation requirements.
Local politicians and school districts are worried new instructor regulations for concurrent enrollment classes — college-level courses taught in high schools that allow students to receive dual credit — could hurt districts and teachers financially, and in some cases, force schools to cut certain courses.
The policy change from the Higher Learning Commission , an accreditation body that oversees degree-granting post-secondary institutions, adopted a policy in June requiring teachers hold a master's degree in their area of instruction or in another area plus 18 graduate-level credits in the area of instruction.
Sen. Carla Nelson, R-Rochester drafted a letter to Gov. Mark Dayton last week, asking him to speak out against the policy, noting concurrent enrollment programs are an important for cutting the cost of college and the achievement gap.
The regulations would disproportionately hurt smaller, more rural districts, said Nelson, because districts outside of urban centers don't always have a college nearby or access to programs, such as Post Secondary Enrollment Options. This often leaves concurrent enrollment as the only option for those students to have a chance at college credit while in high school. It also could force districts or teachers to finance additional education costs for instructors.
Statewide, there were almost 60,000 course registrations for concurrent enrollment classes during the 2013-14 school year, according to Minnesota Concurrent Enrollment Partnerships.
"My hope is that with unified voice of oppositions from all the stakeholders ... and the public that the HLC will reconsider this rule change," Nelson said. "It's a really big deal."
The commission represents 19 states, including Minnesota, Wisconsin and Illinois. It accredits many of the state's colleges, including the University of Minnesota and Rochester Community and Technical College. Accreditation for concurrent enrollment programs also is overseen by the National Alliance for Concurrent Enrollment Partnerships.
The 12 schools in the Hiawatha Valley League Conference drafted a similar letter to the HLC, asking the regulations be reconsidered and reasoning for the changes be revealed.
"We're frantically working with our staff to come up with a solution for this," said Byron Superintendent Jeff Elstad, one of the HVLC schools.
The changes put in writing a "longstanding expectation," the HLC said in an email statement, so that students have a faculty member with college-level expertise in the class's subject matter.
"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 HLC statement continued.
"We're going to find a way to make this financially possible for everyone, but that puts a strain on other budgets for us, and that's definitely a concern," Elstad said, though he said he isn't sure where the extra money will come from.
The requirements, effective September 2017, give districts and instructors time to deal with challenges. But Elstad said it's an unrealistic expectation for classes such as chemistry because districts cannot compete with salaries others can offer.
"We simply can't keep our salary schedules up with the starting pay for someone that comes out with a master's degree in chemistry," said Elstad. "We're going to lose out to the businesses."
Rochester's school district wouldn't finance the extra schooling for teachers, but the extra schooling would push teachers into the next pay bracket, said Superintendent Michael Muñoz.
"It's just a perfect example of the many challenges that districts are faced with when people who are, people who are, in my opinion, removed quite a bit from districts and from students are passing on laws or rules that have an impact on students," Muñoz said.
Nelson said officials need to think about what problem they are trying to solve and should consider data when making policy changes because available data shows concurrent enrollment courses are highly successful.
"The students are succeeding, and they're doing well," Nelson said. "They have a higher graduation rate from college and higher GPAs. And also the results have been phenomenal with students we would consider at-risk students.
"I'm sure it was probably well intended, but, I think ill-conceived," Nelson said.