Sept. 27, 2012 2:36 p.m.

Concurrent enrollment: helpful or harmful?

The concurrent enrollment program at Laramie County Community College has experienced some kinks throughout the years. Or has it?

Faculty members at LCCC have differing opinions on the issues, but they seem to agree the college’s intention to seek accreditation will help to validate the program as a quality experience for students.

According to an overview from the National Alliance of Concurrent Enrollment Partnerships (NACEP), through concurrent enrollment, qualified students can earn college credit prior to high school graduation. Concurrent enrollment programs are taught in the high school during the regular school day by high school instructors.

The overview said programs such as this provide a direct connection between secondary and postsecondary institutions and provide the opportunity for collegial collaboration.

Faculty connection missing

At LCCC, however, the collaboration between high school and college faculty regarding concurrent enrollment has never been enforced, according to Jeff Shmidl, instructor of economics and finance and president of the Statewide Faculty Alliance. “Concurrent enrollment has been the No. 1 issue,” he said.

Shmidl said he has heard statewide concerns that focus mostly on faculty credentials and student equivalence. High school instructors don’t always have a master’s degree, and sometimes students aren’t always at the level they should be when entering college after taking concurrent enrollment courses.

When concurrent enrollment students enter into higher-level courses in college, Shmidl said, although some students have taken the concurrent enrollment courses to earn pre-requirements, only a handful of them maybe ready for the level of the course. In that situation, he said, the curriculum must be lowered, and it’s not beneficial to anyone taking part in the course.

A PowerPoint presentation put together by Maryellen Tast, LCCC dean of the Center for Lifelong Learning, and Brenda Abbott, director of the Center for Secondary Students, lists the benefits of a concurrent enrollment program. A few benefits are “it motivates students to consider a more productive and meaningful senior year; it better prepares students to enter the colleges’ advanced courses earlier, and it allows college instructors to become familiar with the secondary curricula and standards in their content areas and vice versa.”

Quality must be ensured

However, Shmidl said although having the opportunity for such a program is great, if LCCC cannot ensure quality courses in the high school are on the same level as college courses, it’s not beneficial for students.

Considering the facilities and available resources at a college may be greater than those at a high school, a program like this may not always be the best fit for students, he said. Tast and Abbott, however, believe this program is an outstanding opportunity for students and said they believe there are no issues with concurrent enrollment.

Although Tast said she did not necessarily believe there were any problems with the program, she said there have been some misconceptions about what the program was actually about. She said she believed the misconceptions were caused by lack of communication with other institutions concerning what the program does and what it takes for the program to be successful.

She said understanding concurrent enrollment is important because it is a wonderful tool for students in high school who are able to get a good head start on college. Abbott, who agreed there haven’t been any huge issues with the program, said she believed people who don’t know everything about concurrent enrollment doubt the program and make assumptions.

Faculty exceeding requirements

Abbott said, “The quality is there.” Some people believe the problem is the faculty aren’t qualified, but they are, she said.

Tast said they require faculty and student transcripts, which first are reviewed by human resources at LCCC, then goes through the vice president of academic affairs. The decision on whether to hire the faculty is based on the requirements, she said.

Abbott added many of the faculty who apply actually exceed the requirements. However, Dr. Kevin Kilty, board of trustees member and former LCCC instructor, strongly disagreed.

Kilty said he has had the experience firsthand of having ill-prepared students in his courses.

Having unqualified faculty “destroys the quality of the program,” he said. It was the job of the former vice president of instruction to ensure all faculty had the necessary qualifications for the program, he said, and she simply failed at doing that job.

“Unless you run quality programs,” he said, “it’s no good to anyone.” But Tast said the program is “all about student success.” It’s beneficial to students because it is a return on investment, as it allows students to save money by taking the courses in high school and also provides seamless transition for students entering college.

Tast and Abbott said they have been working toward accreditation recently, but Abbott said they have been working to provide a quality program for 10 years. The agency Abbott and Tast are working with for accreditation is the NACEP.

According to Tast and Abbott’s presentation, NACEP will ensure college courses offered by high school teachers are as rigorous as those courses offered on the sponsoring college campus. Also, NACEP adheres to the highest of standards so students experience a seamless transition into college and instructors benefit from meaningful, ongoing, professional development.

Although Trustee Kilty said he believed the issues could have been resolved without accreditation, he said he hoped the process will allow for fewer issues concerning the program.

Accreditation ensures quality teaching

Kilty also pointed out it seemed odd that LCCC said everything regarding the concurrent enrollment program was OK, yet is now seeking accreditation. “LCCC is unable to admit the process was less than perfect,” Kilty said. And although he does firmly believe there were and are problems with the program, primarily faculty issues, he said accreditation will ensure quality as long as the chosen agency performs its job well.

Kilty said he believed the biggest problem LCCC will face after accreditation is once the standards are applied to all faculty, there will probably be fewer instructors, which means fewer classes offered, and, in turn, less enrollment in the program. “Concurrent enrollment will probably go down for a period of time,” he said.

Once LCCC gains accreditation from NACEP, assuming LCCC does, Kilty said the communication between faculty at the college and the high schools will be the responsibility of those parties, which is how it should be, he said, considering currently there is no standard to adhere to.

Shmidl agreed the program needs to return to being “faculty-driven.” The relationship between faculty needs to be enforced, and the decisions need to moved to the faculty level, he said. Like Kilty, Shmidl said he believed accreditation was a step in the right direction and will address the issues.

Help studentens succeed

Dean Tast emphasized that the program is geared toward helping students to succeed and said the program benefits the college by fulfilling the mission of the college, which is to produce successful students.

Abbott said the program prepares students to stay in school and the college will benefit from giving those students the education they need when gaining a degree.

Accreditation seems to be a legitimate problem-solving technique for LCCC, and in doing so, it is believed it will help improve the program.

Kilty said, if it doesn’t, and LCCC cannot ensure a quality program, “we’re wasting the time and resources of both students and taxpayers.”


NACEP

Concurrent Enrollment

College Prep