A Kansas high school student began classes at a Kansas university last year. She brought in 54 credit hours of college coursework taken before her high school graduation: all “concurrent enrollment” courses. She had supposedly finished close to half of a four-year college program. The distinction between high school and college is blurring.
There is wide variation in “concurrent enrollment.” Some courses are actually taken by a high school student who leaves the high school building to attend a course at a nearby university, elbow-to-elbow with mature college students. Some are taught by university faculty who travel to a high school to offer off-campus courses on evenings and weekends. But many are “dual credit” courses where arrangements have been made with the secondary teacher to offer college credit for a course taken during the day at the high school, with regular high school students sitting in the next seat. Supposedly, these courses are checked to be equivalent to college level coursework and I know that a few are. But from the performance of the student above with 54 credit hours, some are not.
Concurrent enrollment was originally designed for the few exceptional Kansas students who are way ahead of their classmates and are ready, intellectually and maturity-wise, for college level work: the “Doogie Housers” (remember that old TV series about a precocious child doctor).
But last year the Legislature moved the eligibility for taking concurrent enrollment courses from junior level to sophomore status. Now a high school student can take college courses immediately after their high school freshman year. With schools forced, under NCLB pressure, to focus more and more on getting 100 percent proficiency for their low performers, there are fewer regular advanced courses to serve the average and gifted students. Now it appears that every parent has a Doogie Houser.
Credit for typing class? Never before at colleges and universities. Typing was a business skill that did not qualify for academic college credit. Such psychomotor vocational skills were learned at technical school. But Kansas technical colleges have been handed the general education curriculum normally taught by university faculty with doctorates and research expectations. With more part time and non-tenured teachers, and no research expectations, tech schools can offer cheaper general education courses. Distinctions among college degrees are getting blurred.
In both the U.S. and Europe, discussion is underway on offering a three-year bachelors degree. This is not accelerated coverage of the 124 credit hours of coursework it normally takes to achieve a bachelors degree for sharp students, but just a three-year degree. In the British system, students attend 13 years of public schooling, so a three year college degree concludes about equal to the 12-years plus four of the American system. But this reform, watering down the college curriculum to a set of outcomes rather than 124 credit hours of “mere seat time” (as educationists are fond of saying), would be a straight trimming of a degree to three years of coursework. The plan isn’t getting much traction overseas.
The final challenge has come from President Obama’s call for everyone to go to school at least one year beyond high school. To be fair, he does not say everyone should go to college. But the media and administrators all interpret this as college. And the Kansas regents are also pushing higher college retention rates. Not retention of students who are college material, but simply retention of students, period. In this last month’s Chronicle of Higher Education, the paper-of-record for universities, retention rates have become the bragging point for some colleges. The elite schools do not have to worry: they turn out the best because they only take the best. But with below average students entering college with questionable college credits, the distinction between high school and college level work is already blurred. Mandates that everyone will go to college are simply an extension of the No Child Left Behind mandate that all students achieve proficiency by 2014.
It leaves professors with one question: "How much do you want us to inflate grades?"
This ensures that—similar to our blurred high school diploma—the future U.S. college degree will have less value and meaning.