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Some states and colleges are scrambling to offer incentives and develop programs that help dual-enrollment instructors meet a change in accreditation guidelines for teaching the increasingly popular courses.

But concerns remain about whether colleges will have enough qualified dual-credit instructors by the time the accreditor’s deadline arrives.

The issue began about two years ago, when the Higher Learning Commission, the country’s largest regional accreditor, issued a policy clarification stating that high school teachers in dual-credit courses, along with all instructional college faculty, must have a master’s degree in the specialty they’re teaching, or they need at least 18 graduate-level credit hours within that specialty. Dual-credit or dual-enrollment courses allow high school students to take college courses and earn credits before graduation. The courses are frequently taught by high school teachers.

The issue affects thousands of dual-credit instructors across HLC’s 19-state jurisdiction -- which goes from Arizona to West Virginia and North Dakota to Arkansas -- who are more likely to have a master’s degree in education than in the specialty they’re teaching. Advanced Placement teachers, for instance, aren’t affected because they aren’t affiliated with colleges. The issue is a concern particularly in colleges and high schools that employ dual-credit instructors, but also some colleges that employ faculty members who don’t meet the new standard.

HLC originally gave colleges until September this year to meet the new standard, but later allowed institutions and states to apply for an extension that pushes the deadline to September 2022 for dual-credit instructors.

“Many programs still have anxiety about the transition to the new requirements,” said Adam Lowe, executive director of the National Alliance of Concurrent Enrollment in Partnerships, in an email. “Dual-credit instructors tend to be veteran teachers and thus closer to retirement and less inclined to enroll in graduate course work. And even in places where the existing pool of instructors largely meet the new requirements, continuing to build a pipeline of teachers who have the right credentials is a challenge as veterans approach retirement.”

While some of the states under HLC’s jurisdiction, like Arkansas, are already in compliance, others, like Minnesota and Indiana, applied for extensions to help their institutions bring instructors up to par.

The community colleges that offer most of the dual-credit instruction to high school students are partnering with universities to help their teachers get the credentials. John Newby, assistant vice president of K-12 initiatives for Ivy Tech Community College, said they’re finding institutions that are able to put together programming for the instructors who need it, and a lot of that is just beginning now.

Ivy Tech, which is Indiana’s statewide two-year college system, has about 3,000 dual-credit teachers for high school students, and of that group, about 1,000 will have to complete some level of graduate course work to meet HLC’s standard, Newby said.

“Some need as little as three credit hours, and for others, there is a much larger inventory they need to complete,” he said.

While Ivy Tech does have dual-credit instructors in career and technical education, the certifications those instructors have already meet HLC requirements, Newby said, adding that the need is to get the graduate credit requirements for those instructors in the liberal arts.

Newby said it’s still too early to tell whether or not the dual-credit instructors for Ivy Tech have flocked to graduate programs.

Indiana, for example, is awarding grant money to universities to help dual-credit teachers with the credentialing. The STEM Teach initiative, as it is known, is typically offered to encourage high school teachers to enter science, technology, engineering and math fields, but the grant can also provide tuition-free graduate courses to dual-enrollment instructors.

And there are other ways Indiana has responded to the need.

“We’re seeing more school districts across the state incorporate into their teaching contracts incentives for teachers to get the course work,” Newby said. “One way they’re helping them is with the tuition themselves or compensating them to a greater level if they become dual-credit credentialed under these new standards.”

Some universities, like those in the Indiana University System, are offering teachers tuition-free graduate course work, as long as they continue teaching dual-credit courses through the universities, Newby said.

“We developed new online master’s programs for this cohort and also new online certificate programs,” said Mike Beam, senior assistant vice provost for undergraduate education at Indiana University, adding that the university didn’t create new degrees for the instructors but is making the programs available online and crafted toward the instructors' needs. “If they have a master’s degree in education and need 18 hours in content areas … we’re developing 18- and 20-hour certificates in this space. The courses really make sense for dual-credit-course teaching.”

The most affected IU dual-credit high school programs were math, biology, chemistry, history, political science, English and public speaking. The university works with up to 600 dual-credit instructors a year, of which about 400 were affected by the HLC change, Beam said.

So, for instance, if an instructor needs graduate credit hours to teach dual-credit history, the master’s program at the university wouldn’t include European or East Asian history, because most dual-credit history courses in the high schools focus on U.S. history, he said.

“We just rolled this out this fall, and we had an outstanding response from teachers interested in taking courses,” Beam said. “We want to make sure we have the capacity for enrollment, but we’re letting teachers know how many credits they need compared to HLC requirements.”

The courses for dual-credit instructors are expected to begin next year, he said.

Farther north, the Minnesota State system of 37 colleges and universities received a systemwide extension to 2022 as well. Although system officials don’t know how many teachers have enrolled in graduate courses to meet HLC requirements, 33 of the system’s institutions offer dual-credit programs, said Doug Anderson, director of communications and media for the system, in an email.

At the University of Minnesota, officials are still collecting information on dual-credit instructors to evaluate who needs the additional courses, but the institution works with about 500 dual-enrollment teachers, said Julie Williams, director of College in the Schools for the university. The University of Minnesota is not part of the Minnesota State system.

“It has not been an easy job to evaluate where all of our instructors are in regard to what HLC has required,” Williams said, adding that the university has spent most of its time working with faculty departments to determine what degrees and graduate work they will recognize in order to offer the credit.

There was also the issue of equivalent test experience and what faculty at the university would be willing to accept for graduate credit, she said, adding that some dual-credit instructors have a significant amount of professional development that was hosted by the university.

The university also hasn’t approved or considered the possibility of reduced or free tuition for the instructors, she said.

“I imagine we’ll lose some instructors,” Williams said. “But I don’t think we’ll lose many.”

Williams said the instructors signed on to teach University of Minnesota work, even as a high school course, and that implies they’re willing to put in the time to continue teaching the youth courses and getting the graduate credit.

At Southwest Minnesota State University, the response from teachers has varied.

“We’ve had teachers say, ‘It’s not possible for my lifestyle and where I’m at with my family and teaching,’ and other teachers saying, ‘Point me where I need to go,’” said Kimberly Guenther, director of concurrent enrollment for SMSU. “We’ve seen all of it.”

SMSU is pointing instructors to a new online program hosted by Minnesota State University Moorhead called 18 Online, which was started specifically for the dual-credit high school teachers. The university has about 325 high school teachers in dual-credit courses, with about 80 percent not meeting HLC’s credentialing standard, Guenther said.

MSU-Moorhead created 18 Online in response to the HLC requirements. The program, which received $3 million from the Legislature, helps the dual-enrollment instructors reach their 18 graduate credits in content areas.

The program is not only tuition-free to the high school teachers, but there is no charge for textbooks and they can move up in salary at their high schools for participating. Those teachers already at the top of their salary schedules can receive a $1,500 stipend, said Boyd Bradbury, 18 Online liaison at MSU Moorhead.

So far, since starting earlier this year, 356 teachers have enrolled in 18 Online, he said.

“It’s growing -- it just takes a while to get this off the ground,” Bradbury said. “We started with math, communications and English … we’ve expanded to eight disciplines and [are] hoping to push that up to 12 in the very near future.”

But expanding courses hasn’t been easy, particularly because the university has had to navigate the collective bargaining system in order to incentivize university faculty to develop and administer the online graduate courses, he said.

“Faculty members proved to be the most challenging aspect of accomplishing this,” he said, adding that as part of the money from the state, the university included incentives for faculty members to participate. “And quite frankly there are faculty members who don’t believe in college in high school for credit and those who feel what is happening is a loss of faculty members at the postsecondary level.”

They also negotiated with faculty to have some kind of quality control for the courses, and thus 18 Online also meets the Quality Matters framework. Quality Matters is a nonprofit that conducts quality assurance in online education.

“We did respond very quickly to this, and for those who know the higher education world, this was lightning speed for anything to happen at the university level,” Bradbury said. “But to tell you this wasn’t contentious at the campus level would be less than truthful … but our math department led the way with this, and those individuals were willing to spend time for the greater good of kids and for the university.”

Teachers in the northwest region of the state, which includes about 90 school districts, can enroll in the program first, if they’ve received permission from their districts, ahead of other instructors across the state. For instance, SMSU is out of the main service area for 18 Online, so instructors at that institution would have to wait until after northwestern teachers applied to participate.

“Because of 18 Online, SMSU is trying to figure out and offer the courses that make sense. The university is offering special programming for dual-credit instructors in English and math graduate courses, and this spring the university will also offer chemistry courses for the instructors, Guenther said.

“There is absolutely a concern that not all 100 percent of teachers will make it,” Guenther said. “In the past two years, we’ve seen quite a few jump on board and take our math and English credits to meet credentialing, and I think over the course of the next five years we’ll see quite a few more meet that requirement on their own, but that’s a reality not all of them will be able to meet.”

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