When a faculty member brings a toddler grandchild to visit the university, I often joke with them about recruiting young students. I don’t joke about it anymore.
This spring, the Kansas Legislature voted to extend college enrollment down to high school students who have finished their freshman year. The Governor signed the bill.
At their June meeting, the Kansas Board of Regents adopted the policy that dropped a threshold that previously allowed only high school juniors and seniors to enroll in university coursework. According to the Harris News Service, academic vice presidents of Kansas universities voted 9-to-1 against lowering the age, but the KBOR approved the policy anyway.
The long-standing Kansas Challenge to Secondary School Pupils Act was written for a few exceptional high school students, not for any parent that wants to shorten a year of college tuition for an average child. But under the pressures of No Child Left Behind–where schools must focus solely on getting low-performers up to proficiency–more gifted and even average high school students are left without challenging work. What was intended to be a special opportunity for a few of Kansas’s brightest has become a questionable flood of secondary students. Some are taking 20 to 30 credit hours of this “concurrent enrollment” before they graduate high school. This new lower threshold will permit even more.
What is wrong with lots of students taking college courses while still in high school? In the new business model of university and community college governance, selling credit hours has become a business. But unlike businesses, education is an unusual field where many students would prefer less for their money: less work, less study, less knowledge. In the minority of instances where high school students actually attend a nearby university or community college, their academic experience is at the level of academic rigor of regular university coursework.
However, growing amounts of concurrent enrollment are being offered off-site in high schools and outreach centers. In cases where any warm body is hired to teach, and that instructor knows that there will not be another course to teach the next semester if he or she grades too hard, there has been little to prevent the drift to cheap courses.
No one is more upset than some community college faculty who recognize that low quality outreach courses reflect badly on their on-campus program. While most university and some community college departments control who can be hired, others are exasperated when off-campus hiring decisions are made by a vice president for marketing and where generating student credit hours is the main driving force. Proposals to require a minimum of a masters degree with 24 hours in the content field being taught were watered down; finding that talent could be difficulty in rural Kansas. And having instructors who interact with peers at the college level and who keep up on their field is just as important as having minimal credentials.
Veteran professors know that only a few truly gifted students can work so far ahead of grade level. To begin substantial college coursework earlier than the junior year in high school, most students’ level of maturity will not support genuine advanced learning across so many fields.
The criteria for a student to take early college coursework has always been designation as truly “gifted.” It appears that Kansas is growing a bumper crop of gifted students–until some of them take their inflated grades and step up to advanced work in college—and flunk out.
There is a Chinese saying: “There is only one most beautiful child in the world, and every mother has it.”
In Kansas under this new system that blurs the line between high school and college, we can now say: “There is only one Doogie Howser in the world, and every parent has it.”
John Richard Schrock trains biology teachers and lives in Emporia.