Letters to the Editor

On the Dual Enrollment Forum

John McNay, Robert Shaffer, December 2015

To the editor:

I read with interest the different descriptions of dual enrollment efforts in a recent Perspectives on History (Forum, September 2015). But, from my perspective, the comments did not address some of the most critical issues. The issue is not so much about what one does in the classroom but what strategies like this are doing to higher education, our profession, and our students. It is important to understand this movement as part of a package of conservative “reforms” that are not good for public higher education and not good for students.

This incredible pressure to reduce “time to degree” through various mechanisms is just code for less education and turning education into only job training. Funding for our public colleges and universities has been declining for decades, and with conservative forces in control of most of our legislatures there is no willingness to address this central issue to the cost of higher ed. Instead of real solutions, we get gimmicks like dual enrollment.

Dual enrollment hurts our institutions financially. It siphons off students who would fill introductory sections in research universities that provide revenue for upper-division courses and graduate programs. At our branch campuses and community colleges, where tuition is lower, it attacks their main mission. It is not in the interest of our students to have colleges and universities directly undermined in this way.

This is part of the conservative drive to degrade the professional standing of university faculty. Combined with MOOCs, online programs, standardized testing, prior learning assessment, and other political tinkering, dual enrollment suggests that university faculty are not a very important component at all to education.

In Ohio, the new College Credit Plus program is an effort to dramatically expand the number of dual enrollment students both in the public schools and at the colleges. Astoundingly, it is open to students down to the seventh grade. We’ve always favored a small-scale opportunity for the very best high school students to come to the college classroom. But in Ohio and elsewhere, these programs are moving far beyond that model.

All of this, of course, is part of the corporatization of higher education, an effort to impose a business model based on production. Many states have gone to a production model of funding by paying universities only for courses completed and degrees granted, rather than the opportunity model based on enrollment. Success is measured only by increasing the number of degrees pumped out rather than quality of education.

In Ohio, I’m president of the state conference of the American Association of University Professors. I would urge faculty across the country to become engaged in the political struggle over the future of higher education as we are doing in Ohio. We need to fight the decline in funding so that public education remains truly public education. Don’t depend on your university presidents to do this. With sports management, administrative bloat, and real estate development commanding their attention, it is common for our administrations to lose sight of the central academic mission. As faculty, we need to fight for control of higher education at our institutions and at our state legislatures.

If we don’t, we know where the conservative activists at the American Legislative Exchange Council, the Lumina Foundation, and the like will take us—faculty will be increasingly marginalized, shared governance and academic freedom will melt away, academic work will be measured only to the extent that it can be monetized and marketed, and our students will never have the opportunity to experience the real benefits of higher education.

John T. McNay
University of Cincinnati

To the editor:

Perspectives on History has done a great service with its September 2015 Forum on dual enrollment (DE). As a former high school social studies teacher and current college professor of history and social studies education, please allow me to add to the discussion.

Julia Brookins introduces the forum with her positive experience taking a college class while still in secondary school; I, too, have had excellent local high school students in my college classes. No one objects to this form of DE, where a college professor teaches the course and the secondary student is truly immersed in college work. However, even some sophisticated policy makers, I have learned, believe that when they express support for DE, this is what they think occurs, whereas your forum makes clear that it is not the norm. Instead, high school teachers with widely varying degrees of collegiate supervision routinely offer courses for college credit.

I remain unconvinced by the authors most favorable toward DE. Daniel Brandon Swart appears to be a great teacher, emphasizing interactive learning and conceptual thinking. However, his evidence makes the case that he is teaching a college preparatory class, not a college-level class. Without knowing more about the “skills” he is teaching his students—he does not mention historiography or primary source analysis, and he gives no concrete examples of “open-ended questions” or what he means by “research”—one simply cannot accept his larger argument.

Swart reports anecdotally that former students say that his course prepared them for college. Fair enough, but I can offer numerous counterexamples. For example, in recent years three of my advisees—all prospective history majors—who arrived with DE credits flunked out of our program in their first year. I have not observed clear, positive correlation between DE and college readiness.

Trinidad Gonzales makes the important point that DE financially helps working-class students. However, his own discussion shows that DE leads to a decline of rigor, as the higher high school pass rates he describes are based partly on allowing students to retake exams for a higher grade. This increasingly common high school practice leads to students not studying for scheduled exams, then targeting their studying (or discussing answers with their friends) for the free do-over.

Here are three additional points from my experience in Pennsylvania. First, community colleges, especially, turn to DE not for academic reasons but for cash flow. K–12 districts pay the college for each student enrolled while also paying the teacher of the course. College costs, meanwhile, are minimal: a faculty member meets with the high school teacher once or twice, reviews the syllabus and exam, and perhaps sits in on one class per semester.

Second, it is difficult to gauge DE’s impact beyond anecdotal accounts, as transcripts do not state that a course was taken via DE. Given the focus in education today on data and metrics—lopsided as this focus often is—college faculty organizations should lobby for a clear notation on college transcripts when a course was taught in high school.

Third, there are only two brief mentions in the Perspectives Forum on the Advanced Placement program, which also has been growing dramatically. Historians should prefer AP over DE as the means for high school students to earn college credit. Elaine Carey and Alex Lichtenstein note that as faculty coordinators of DE programs, they have neither the time nor the resources to monitor the quality of these high school courses. The AP program can do so better, with its clear, standardized curricula, assessments, and training for high school teachers. To be sure, there are drawbacks when credit depends on one high-pressure exam, and my experience grading world history AP exams convinced me that the “curve” in place enabled many students who could not write coherent, substantive essays to receive college credit. Nevertheless, when local teachers tell me that their districts turned to DE in part because they perceived AP courses as too difficult, I can only conclude that DE as generally implemented has meant a decline in standards for college credit.

Finally, the AHA and all history departments with any influence over DE programs should insist that anyone teaching college-level history in high school must have at least an MA in history. That degree must be seen as a necessary, if not always sufficient, baseline teaching requirement in our profession to maintain some degree of control over standards.

Robert Shaffer
Shippensburg University

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