|Sarah Hooker of Jobs for the Future, now known simply as JFF, with colleague Joel Vargas (middle), senior vice president of school and learning designs, and Rowdy Vela, early college high school director at Pharr-San Juan-Alamo Early College High School in Texas.
Ask any high school principal in the Denver Public Schools to name the top barriers to sustaining their robust dual enrollment program and they almost certainly will point to staffing. Denver students take approximately 10,000 college courses per year. They are tuition-free, and the number is growing.
But the school district faces a looming dilemma: high schools simply don’t have enough qualified teachers to deliver the dual credit courses — and the collegiate partners can’t fill the demand, either.
Teaching college courses typically requires a master’s degree in the academic content area or a master’s in another field plus at least 18 graduate credits in the content area. Both are rare among high school teachers. Across 38 high schools, Denver had fewer than 20 eligible math teachers in 2016-17. As an administrator at the Community College of Denver laments: “Finding a math teacher with a master’s is like finding a unicorn.”
Staffing pains are all too common among districts that want to expand dual enrollment. But Denver is among the vanguard exploring innovative solutions. In June, nine more Denver math teachers and English teachers became eligible college adjuncts after completing an intensive, yearlong graduate program designed specifically for this purpose.
The number of high school students taking dual enrollment courses through community colleges has more than quadrupled since 1995, according to the Community College Re-search Center. As interest in dual enrollment swells nationwide, the shortage of qualified instructors, typically bearing adjunct faculty status at a neighboring university, has become a priority seemingly overnight. A broad set of stakeholders, from principals to policymakers, acknowledge that dual enrollment cannot reach its potential as a means to increase college readiness without a sufficient pool of instructors. Providing dual enrollment opportunities at scale requires a strategic approach to staffing.
While many high schoolers take dual enrollment courses on a local college campus, this option becomes less feasible as the number of participants grows. Nationwide, 75 percent of dual credit courses are actually delivered at high schools, taught either by college faculty, high school teachers who have been certified as adjuncts or a mix of the two, according to the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics.
Each delivery model has pros and cons, including financial tradeoffs, logistical challenges and differences in expertise (subject matter knowledge is presumably greater for college faculty, while pedagogy is arguably stronger for K-12 instructors). But it can be difficult to find an instructor from either group.
The qualifications of high school adjuncts have been under scrutiny nationwide. The Chicago-based Higher Learning Commission, the nation’s largest higher education accreditation body, spotlighted this issue when it reasserted its minimum qualifications for adjunct faculty in 2015 by requiring all dual credit instructors to have at least a master’s plus 18 in-field credits. The directive provoked alarm for dual enrollment partnerships in all 19 states under its purview.
In Minnesota, the challenge is particularly acute. A statewide review in 2016 found that over three-fourths of the state’s dual enrollment instructors did not meet the Higher Learning Commissioner’s requirements. Minnesota’s state colleges and universities received a temporary reprieve. Instructors now have until 2022 to meet the credentialing guidelines. Nonetheless, the scope of the task ahead is daunting.
Jobs for the Future, now known simply as JFF, supports innovative efforts to address dual credit staffing challenges through work with school districts that are scaling early college designs. Important lessons from these trailblazers can inform other schools and districts nationwide (see related story
Three of our organization’s partner school districts, representing distinct educational contexts yet facing common capacity limitations, have devised practical staffing strategies.
PHARR-SAN JUAN-ALAMO INDEPENDENT SCHOOL DISTRICT, TEXAS
|Juan Barrera, a math teacher at Pharr-San-Juan-Alamo Early College High School in Pharr, Texas, leads an advanced course for dual credit.
This is a 33,000-student district situated near the U.S.-Mexico border, an area historically characterized by low educational attainment and limited economic mobility. For more than a decade, however, this district, which is 99 percent Hispanic and 88 percent low income, has earned renown for raising graduation rates and enabling a large and growing number of students to earn associate degrees from neighboring South Texas College.
College courses are delivered either by high school adjuncts or college instructors who travel from the college in nearby McAllen. It is less expensive for the district to use its own staff and avoid the college’s per-course instructor fee, which is approximately $3,200 per course. Still, Pharr-San Juan-Alamo pays its own teachers a stipend as an incentive for teaching dual credit courses (up to $1,500 per semester), which are offered in government, English, computer science and a few other subjects.
Recognizing the benefits of using in-house talent, district administrators have looked for ways to better leverage the limited pool of eligible adjuncts. Some schools have qualified teachers in their buildings but low student demand for certain courses. As a solution, the district urges schools to share qualified instructors and, in some cases, transports students to other schools for specific classes. The school district relies on college professors for subjects that are harder to staff internally, such as economics and speech.
Pharr-San Juan-Alamo also has developed strategies for expanding its pool of eligible adjuncts, including focused recruiting and incentives. Like many districts, it offers extra compensation for teachers with a master’s degree. But Pharr-San Juan-Alamo provides larger incentives for teachers with a master’s degree in core content. A master’s in biology yields an extra $1,000 per semester compared to $500 for a master’s in education. The district also partners with several graduate universities to offer reduced-cost master’s programs for teachers.
DENVER PUBLIC SCHOOLS, COLORADO
A diverse 90,000-student urban district, Denver wants to upskill its current high school teachers as quickly as possible due to rising demand for dual enrollment. The need is particularly urgent at Denver’s six newly state-designated early college high schools, which must provide the opportunity for all students to earn up to 60 college credits before graduation. In 2016-17, Denver students enrolled in more than 10,000 college courses — up from 4,400 in 2012-13 — and their interest continues to grow.
In 2017, the school district and the Colorado State University-Global Campus, which was the country’s first fully online state university, piloted an innovative “mini-master’s” program to provide a fast-track graduate credentialing option for teachers who have a master’s degree but not sufficient graduate credits in their subject area. The intensive online program includes six back-to-back courses over 12 months, allowing teachers to finish the 18 required credits much more quickly than on a typical semester-based schedule. The first cohort of math and English teachers completed the program in spring 2018 and a second cohort is underway.
MOUNDS VIEW PUBLIC SCHOOLS, MINNESOTA
Mounds View is a relatively small, high-performing suburban district that is expanding dual enrollment participation as a strategy for increasing equity and graduating all students ready for college and careers. The 11,000-student district and its two-year college partner, Anoka-Ramsey Community College, have one of the largest dual enrollment programs in the state.
|Raymond Kidd, an administrator in Minnesota’s Mounds View Public Schools, works with students who can avail themselves of an extensive dual credit program with Anoka-Ramsey Community College.
When the Higher Learning Commission clarified its policies for adjunct faculty qualifications, Mounds View realized that the majority of its dual enrollment instructors — many of whom have been teaching in the district for 10 to 20 years — would soon be ineligible to deliver college courses.
With the future of its dual enrollment program in jeopardy, district leadership created a plan to incentivize teachers to pursue the required graduate credits. This plan, which was approved by the local teachers union in 2017, outlines a set of graduate tuition reimbursement policies and salary enhancements for teachers who complete the required credentials. The amounts are based on years of service and the number of graduate credits a teacher still needs to earn. Some teachers also can access free courses funded through a $3 million state appropriation that was developed specifically to help Minnesota’s teachers become credentialed dual credit instructors. Available slots in these courses are limited, however.
For its part, the community college works actively with the district to analyze the transcripts of all of Mounds View’s current adjuncts and to give each teacher a clear under-standing of the graduate courses they need to take. The district also has been working with JFF to project future adjunct staffing needs and develop strategies for building the bench.
While efforts to address the dual credit staffing problem may begin as piecemeal solutions, the school districts that are making the most headway are doing so as part of a comprehensive plan. As JFF has heard repeatedly from partners, the strategies need to make the additional work worth the teachers’ limited time and resources.
Additionally, no guarantees exist that eligible instructors, whether from the K-12 or the collegiate side, are fully prepared to take on their new dual role. Instructors need extra professional development to support student success while upholding the expectations of a college course.
Indeed, it is not just the quantity
of dual credit instructors that matters but their teaching quality
, as well. High schools and colleges both have a stake in the solution, especially if they want to position their dual enrollment partnership to achieve the high-yield results that research has shown are possible, if done correctly.
is senior program manager with JFF (previously known as Jobs for the Future) in Boston. Twitter: @jfftweets