As college students return to Kansas colleges and universities, there are new murmurs among the cohort. “Sure wish my parents had paid 300 dollars so that high school course would have counted for college.” And “College courses are so much more difficult! My roommate doesn’t have to take it because he got credit for his high school course.”
The 1993 Kansas Legislature opened up college enrollment to any student who had “...demonstrated the ability to benefit from participation in the regular curricula of eligible postsecondary education institutions, has been authorized by the principal of the school attended to apply for enrollment at an eligible postsecondary education institution, and is acceptable or has been accepted for enrollment at an eligible postsecondary education institution.”
The original intent was to allow a few exceptional Doogie Howsers go across the road and take college courses. Originally limited to high school juniors and seniors, the statute was amended to allow students to begin accumulating college credits after their high school freshman year.
While there are some rigorous and well-taught high school classes that approach the level of some introductory college courses, a large number are average secondary level courses awarded dual credit. The driving force has been the fact that these college credits boost the university’s tuition inflow and higher education is becoming more about money than about education.
So many high school courses are being counted as college credit that a four year bachelor’s degree may now only be three year’s of genuine college work—or less. The bona fide student who walks across the stage to receive a genuine 4-year degree may now be followed by a student who receives the same degree for half the academic achievement. Faculty, under pressure to increase retention and graduation rates, are powerless to solve this problem.
Fortunately, the Kansas Board of Regents has finally taken action to turn around the rigor of concurrent enrollment courses. Starting this fall, teachers of any course that can be counted toward the baccalaureate degree, including high school courses that can be transferred for that purpose, must meet Higher Learning Commission standards. HLC requires instructors to have a master’s degree in the same disciple as the course OR a master’s in a related discipline with 18 graduate credits in the same discipline as the course.
This has sent a shock wave through Kansas secondary schools, technical schools and community colleges. Until now, the tech schools and community colleges could hire instructors with only a bachelors degree and far less coursework in the discipline than required to teach at high school level. Now the minimum is a masters degree with 18 credit hours in the discipline.
Having an instructor who has depth-in-knowledge in the discipline is critical to maintaining course rigor (although it is admittedly not a guarantee of good teaching).
Despite eroding academics, the loose dual credit system has been a money-maker for Kansas colleges and a symbol of prestige for high schools. There will be many attempts to game the system. We can expect some parties to ignore the requirement because they use the syllabus or tests from a college course. Others may represent their course as working under the distant sponsorship of an off-site university professor. But the HLC requirement is clear: the day-to-day instructor of the course has to have the masters degree with 18 hours in-discipline. Period.
This will make a dent in the over-abundant concurrent offerings. The KBOR has encouraged regents schools to help get these instructors qualified.
But who is going to check the qualifications of teachers of dual credit courses? The understaffed Kansas Department of Education has no jurisdiction. And the KBOR office is not sending out anyone with authority and ability-to-fine. This burden is being placed on the postsecondary institutions that work with high schools offering dual credit.
Meanwhile, if a student is taking a concurrent credit course this fall from an instructor who does not have a masters degree and 18 credit hours in the discipline, the student would be well advised to ask for their money back.