By Madelynn Coldiron
A statewide task force will begin work this month on how to improve dual-credit programs for the state’s students.
A Kentucky Department of Education white paper has identified issues of concern with dual credit statewide, including some that apparently have led to a precipitous drop in the number of students taking dual-credit career and technical education courses.
A statewide strategy and commitment are needed, Education Commissioner Dr. Terry Holliday told the state board of education at its August retreat in Frankfort.
Holliday said superintendents around the state have cited concerns about dual credit consistency, equity and access. Other states, he said, “are outpacing Kentucky” in this area.
“Obviously, we’re going in the wrong direction and we’ve got to address it,” he said.
Among the concerns the KDE white paper said high school administrators and teachers identified were:
• Different admission requirements among the 16 Kentucky community and technical colleges
• Large variations in tuition fees among the universities and colleges
• Inability to transfer credits among institutions
•Districts not being allowed to work with postsecondary institutions outside their service region
• Different requirements for teacher credentials
• Several KCTCS colleges do not offer dual credit for CTE courses
State board member Jay Parrent, who also is chief student affairs officer at Madisonville Community College, said an overhaul of the dual-credit program is needed, especially in career and technical education.
Holliday said the task force’s work will focus on 13 model state-level policy components for a successful dual enrollment program as identified by the Education Commission on the States (see chart below). The group is being asked to come up with recommendations, and Holliday wants the state school board to promote those recommendations as a legislative priority.
While the next budget session of the General Assembly won’t come until 2016, the commissioner said some legislation could be enacted in anticipation of the 2016 legislature.
The downturn in dual-credit hours through the Kentucky Community and Technical College System came after those institutions entered into an agreement with KDE and the Kentucky Office of Career and Technical Education that kicked in with the 2012-13 school year.
Dr. Sue Cain, a senior policy advisor with the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education, said among other things, the agreement was designed to improve access and course quality. It also made sure tuition calculations were “common across the system,” she said. In some cases, that may have increased tuition, since the charges had varied widely before that. Among four-year institutions, tuition discounts for dual-credit classes range from zero to 83 percent.
The agreement also allowed community and technical colleges to charge a $50 administrative fee per dual-credit course when the institutions do not charge tuition for the class. This happens, for example, when a class is taught at a high school by a high school teacher.
Dale Winkler, who heads KDE’s Office of Career and Technical Education, thinks that the $50 fee is a big factor in the drop in the number of students participating in career and technical education dual-credit courses.
“It doesn’t sound like a lot, but for many of our students in CTE programs, that is a lot of money when you have a wide variety of different students’ abilities within those programs,” he said. Parents also may not fully realize that it’s still a good deal, even with the $50 fee, he added.
Further affecting the participation in dual-credit courses, some community and technical colleges also have stopped offering regular dual credit, opting instead for what’s called articulated credit. In these cases, the postsecondary credit counts only if the student enrolls at that particular institution, which raises transferability issues for students.
While the white paper listed access as a problem in some regions, Cody Davidson, a senior research associate for the Council on Postsecondary Education, pointed to data showing the number of students taking dual-enrollment courses online doubled between 2011-12 and 2012-13 and the number of high school teachers teaching those courses tripled. “So I would think our access is increasing, even though there might be some total credit-hour enrollment differences,” he said.
13 model state-level policy components for dual-enrollment programs
1. All eligible students are able to participate.
2. Student eligibility requirements are based on demonstrated academic abilities.
3. Caps on the maximum number of courses students can take are not overly restrictive.
4. Students earn both high school and postsecondary credit for successful completion.
5. All students and parents are provided with program information.
6. Counseling is available for students and parents before and during the program.
7. Responsibility for tuition payments does not fall to parents.
8. Districts and postsecondary institutions are fully funded or reimbursed for participating students.
9. Courses have the same content and rigor no matter where or to whom they are taught.
10. High school instructors teaching dual-credit classes meet the same expectations as their counterparts.
11. Districts and institutions publicly report on student participation and outcomes.
12. Programs are evaluated based on available data.
13. Postsecondary institutions should accept and apply dual-enrollment credit as standard transfer credit.