Executive Perspective

Converging With Community Colleges Expands Horizons
By Daniel A. Domenech/School Administrator, November 2018

THE 1965 PASSAGE of both the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and the Higher Education Act perhaps marked the beginning of policy discussions between the two levels in education because the federal government injected itself into their business for the first time.

In their book The Convergence of K-12 and Higher Education Policies and Programs in a Changing Era (Harvard Education Press, 2016), Christopher Loss and Patrick McGuinn provide an interesting history of the intersections of the two sectors over the years. Higher education always has seen K-12 as the source of its students, which launched the practice of accrediting high schools to ensure they would turn out college-ready students. Promoting uniformity of the high school curriculum followed, along with the introduction of college admissions tests (ACT and SAT) to assist colleges and universities with student selection.

Although higher education has not been subject to the same level of scrutiny that befell K-12 after “A Nation at Risk,” that all changed in 2006 when a commission report issued by U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings called for reforms related to student learning and employment outcomes.

Several years later, the Obama administration, in a proposed reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, pushed for an accountability system similar to reports used in K-12 schooling. K-12 educators were sympathetic to the pushback from the higher education community because they had been seeking relief from the accountability requirements of No Child Left Behind and had finally succeeded in obtaining some relief with the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act.

Credit-Bearing Classes
Aside from the federal policy issues that both sectors have faced over the years, the most persistent and successful attempts at programming convergence have focused on dual credit programs. At a time when the cost of a college education has become prohibitive for many families, the opportunity to take college-level, credit-bearing courses in high school carries the appeal of reducing tuition costs. This is helpful to low-income students who might not otherwise be able to afford a college education.

The number of high school students graduating with an associate degree from their local community college has increased significantly, leading to new partnerships between local superintendents and community college presidents. Over the past four years, AASA has collaborated with the American Association of Community Colleges to convene leaders in both sectors to expand dual enrollment programs.

The joint meetings identify the many impediments of successful implementation. Is the course to be taught at the high school or on the college campus? The campus has appeal because it can motivate the student to pursue a higher education degree. But who bears the cost — the high school, the college, the student or a combination of two or all three? Who teaches the course — the high school teacher or the college instructor? High school teachers are required to have a master’s in the subject matter to teach a college class. Failing that requirement, many institutions will not grant the desired credits.

The reports generated through the AASA/AACC meetings show that all the above factors are at play depending on the state and the region. However, the strong desire to collaborate on new programs benefitting students is leading to agreements that overcome these challenges. The Community College Research Center found the number of dually enrolled high school students more than quadrupled nationwide between 1995 and 2015.

A New Catalyst
A recent development that might spark even greater convergence is the increase in youth apprenticeship programs. Partly because of the need to fill skilled worker jobs that now are vacant, school districts are being encouraged to form partnerships with their local technical colleges and area industries to develop apprenticeships that begin in the junior year. These programs include dual enrollment with students transitioning to the local college after high school graduation, all the while serving an apprenticeship with a business partner that will lead to a full-time job.

These cooperative arrangements provide alternative pathways for our students who do not seek a four-year degree. But dual credits also ease the way for students who want to pursue a four-year bachelor’s degree with less debt. AASA is interested in promoting more creative partnerships with four-year institutions.

At a time when many school districts face teacher shortages, a high school-to-college teacher education program could be another convergence solution.

is AASA executive director. Twitter: @AASADan