Ask any high school principal in the Denver Public Schools to name the top barriers to sustaining their robust dual-enrollment program and they almost certainly will point to staffing. Denver students take approximately 10,000 college courses per year. They are tuition-free, and the number is growing.
But the school district faces a looming dilemma: high schools simply don’t have enough qualified teachers to deliver the dual credit courses — and the collegiate partners can’t fill the demand, either.
Editor’s note: This excerpt comes from School Administrator, the magazine of AASA, The School Superintendents Association, whose November issue focuses on dual-credit programs.
Teaching college courses typically requires a master’s degree in the academic content area or a master’s in another field plus at least 18 graduate credits in the content area. Both are rare among high school teachers. Across 38 high schools, Denver had fewer than 20 eligible math teachers in 2016-17. As an administrator at the Community College of Denver laments: “Finding a math teacher with a master’s is like finding a unicorn.”
Staffing pains are all too common among districts that want to expand dual enrollment. But Denver is among the vanguard exploring innovative solutions. In June, nine more Denver math teachers and English teachers became eligible college adjuncts after completing an intensive, yearlong graduate program designed specifically for this purpose.
The number of high school students taking dual enrollment courses through community colleges has more than quadrupled since 1995, according to the Community College Research Center. As interest in dual enrollment swells nationwide, the shortage of qualified instructors, typically bearing adjunct faculty status at a neighboring university, has become a priority seemingly overnight. A broad set of stakeholders, from principals to policymakers, acknowledge that dual enrollment cannot reach its potential as a means to increase college readiness without a sufficient pool of instructors. Providing dual enrollment opportunities at scale requires a strategic approach to staffing.
While many high schoolers take dual enrollment courses on a local college campus, this option becomes less feasible as the number of participants grows. Nationwide, 75 percent of dual credit courses are actually delivered at high schools, taught either by college faculty, high school teachers who have been certified as adjuncts or a mix of the two, according to the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics.
Each delivery model has pros and cons, including financial tradeoffs, logistical challenges and differences in expertise (subject matter knowledge is presumably greater for college faculty, while pedagogy is arguably stronger for K-12 instructors). But it can be difficult to find an instructor from either group.
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The qualifications of high school adjuncts have been under scrutiny nationwide. The Chicago-based Higher Learning Commission, the nation’s largest higher education accreditation body, spotlighted this issue when it reasserted its minimum qualifications for adjunct faculty in 2015 by requiring all dual credit instructors to have at least a master’s plus 18 in-field credits. The directive provoked alarm for dual enrollment partnerships in all 19 states under its purview.
In Minnesota, the challenge is particularly acute. A statewide review in 2016 found that over three-fourths of the state’s dual enrollment instructors did not meet the Higher Learning Commissioner’s requirements. Minnesota’s state colleges and universities received a temporary reprieve. Instructors now have until 2022 to meet the credentialing guidelines. Nonetheless, the scope of the task ahead is daunting.