Dual masters

Minnesota State Community and Technical College has a robust mentorship program for high school concurrent enrollment teachers, an aspect of which focuses on community. (Photo: M State)

As dual enrollment continues to expand, more high school faculty are teaching college-level classes. To make sure they’re qualified and ensure a rich and appropriately rigorous experience for students, a growing number of community colleges have created mentorship programs for the high school instructors teaching these courses.

The vast majority of dual-enrollment courses (at least 80%) are offered at the students’ high school, says Amy Williams, executive director of the National Alliance of Concurrent Enrollment Partnerships (NACEP) — and many of these courses are taught by high school teachers who meet the partner college’s criteria for adjunct faculty.

This article is an excerpt from the current issue of the Community College Journal, published bimonthly by the American Association of Community Colleges.

Offering dual-enrollment courses at students’ own schools makes sense for a number of reasons. It’s more convenient and less disruptive for students to participate, and it’s also less disruptive to the culture of the high school.

“We want the top students to stay on their high school campus,” says Carrie Brimhall, president of Minnesota State Community and Technical College (M State). “We understand what it means to the school’s culture when they do so.”

A lot to balance

But even when high school faculty meet the basic criteria for teaching dual-enrollment courses at their school, they face many challenges in this role.

“The content knowledge is probably the most straightforward element,” Williams notes.

High school faculty teaching dual-enrollment classes must be aware of, understand, navigate and communicate the expectations and requirements of both the high school and the partner college, Williams says — including managing different schedules, calendars and deadlines; using new or different learning management and grading systems; and balancing the rules and administrative procedures of both institutions.

Colleges such as M State, Iowa Western Community College and Salt Lake Community College have created programs in which faculty volunteers, commonly referred to as faculty liaisons, receive a stipend to mentor high school instructors teaching dual enrollment courses.

“It’s important to be intentional about this work,” Brimhall says.

A true partnership approach

Dual-enrollment teachers need effective communication and collaboration, Williams says. They need to align their course content, teaching strategies and methods of assessment with those of college faculty, while also coordinating with their high school colleagues to ensure a smooth integration of the dual-enrollment experience within the overall high school curriculum.

At Iowa Western Community College, which serves 5,700 students within the greater Omaha, Nebraska, metro area, dual-enrollment students make up 40% of the college’s total enrollment. Students from 27 different high schools take part in college-level classes, and most attend classes taught at their own schools by high school faculty, commonly referred to as concurrent enrollment (CE).

To ensure that these instructors are highly qualified to teach college-level classes, Iowa Western follows NACEP’s quality standards and guidelines for concurrent enrollment partnerships (CEPs), which state that:

  • All concurrent enrollment instructors must be approved by academic leaders at the partner college and must meet the college’s minimum requirements for its own instructors teaching the course on campus.
  • Teachers who are new to concurrent enrollment should receive training in the course philosophy, curriculum, pedagogy and assessment prior to teaching the course.
  • All concurrent enrollment instructors should participate in annual, discipline-specific professional development provided by the college, as well as ongoing support to further enhance their skills.

High school teachers who are teaching a dual-enrollment course for the first time go through course-specific orientation in which they learn about the syllabus, expected learning outcomes, grading and discipline, says Thomas Gilmore, dean of high school partnerships. Each instructor also is assigned to a faculty liaison at the college, and these liaisons offer continuing guidance.

As with any effective relationship, the key to developing successful mentorships is to approach them as a true partnership, in which both the high school and college instructor contribute to — and learn from — the experience.

“It has to be a give and take,” Gilmore says. “We want to respect the academic freedom of high school dual enrollment teachers, just as we would for our own instructors. High school faculty are fantastic teachers, and sometimes we forget that.”

Learning from each other

Roberta Freeman, a communications and English faculty member at M State, has mentored high school dual-enrollment teachers for more than two decades. She has found that she learns a lot from the teachers she mentors.

“One of the English CEP teachers I mentor has created guidelines for mini-workshops to address common problems in student writing,” she says. “Her clear objectives allow students to practice a skill, such as incorporating supporting evidence in their writing, in a 10- to 15-minute session. I have developed mini-workshops for classes I teach based on her well-designed activity.”

When mentors and mentees can learn from each other and understand that they both bring valuable perspectives to the table, powerful conversations can occur.

“As much as we’re experts in instruction at the community college level and what college-level rigor looks like, they know what it’s like to teach in a high school environment today,” Brimhall says. “They know best what their school culture is and what their students need.”

Not only does this kind of mutual collaboration lead to better instruction, it also facilitates problem-solving when the inevitable conflicts occur.

“Colleges get into trouble when they try to act like the sheriff in the Wild West,” Gilmore observes.

There’s more! Read the full article in the digital CC Journal.

About the Author

Dennis Pierce
Dennis Pierce is an education writer based in Boston.